LE MANS VICTORY: Nico Hulkenberg (inset) was the wheel of his Porsche 919 Hybrid (centre, No.19) as it crossed the finish line to win the 83rd Le Mans 24 Hours endurance race. Image: AFP / Jean-Francois Monier
LE MANS, France - Formula 1 driver Nico Hulkenberg has described winning the 2015 Le Mans 24 Hours as "the best day of my career".
On his debut race, Hulkenberg on Sunday (June 15) beat fellow Porsche prototype racer and former F1 driver Mark Webber.
Hulkenberg said: "It's probably the best day of my career, maybe even my life. I hope to return next year."
RARE RACING FEAT
Racing full-time for Force India in 2015, Hulkenberg was attracting a lot of attention as he embarked on the ultra-rare feat of combining F1 with a Le Mans foray.
Force India boss Vijay Mallya tweeted "Nico Hulkenberg becomes the first active F1 driver to win Le Mans after a gap of 24 years".
Actually, his victory comes at an awkward time for F1, as its popularity declines and stakeholders consider how to spice-up the spectacle. It had been hoped the new 'power unit' regulations would attract more manufacturers to F1; instead, Ford announced it was returning to Le Mans in 2016 with a GT car.
British newspaper The Times wrote: "F1 should be concerned. Only Honda showed up (in F1) while Porsche, Toyota, Nissan and now Ford have all moved into the world of endurance cars."
Indeed, Le Mans is earning a renewed reputation as a series of choice among the world's best drivers.
Hulkenberg told f1-insider.com: "You always hear 'endurance race' but actually it's a sprint race. We push from pit-stop to pit-stop more than we do in F1."
LE MANS APPEAL
Webber, who switched from F1 to Le Mans in 2014, said he was relieved F1 was "finally having a look at itself" as it moved to speed up the cars for 2017.
He told UK's Daily Telegraph: "I mainly think about the drivers, the guys who should have the opportunity to experience something phenomenal. If they're happy, and on the edge, and it's risky, pushing the boundaries, then the fans love it.
"At the moment it's not like that."
He also told the Australian news media that prototype endurance cars were "super-rewarding" to drive. "They're bloody quick, pretty much like F1 was five or six years ago. I'm certainly not pulling my hair out saving tyres and things like that, so it's great."
The big risk for F1 is that other drivers will now follow Hulkenberg and Webber's lead and make the switch.
MORE F1 DRIVERS TO SWITCH?
Auto Motor und Sport correspondent Tobias Gruner said: "Remember, Porsche wanted (Fernando) Alonso to racewith Hulkenberg in the third car at Le Mans but Honda did not give permission."
Former F1 driver Lucas di Grassi, fourth at Le Mans for Audi, said the category was ready to absorb anybody who might flee. He told Brazil's Globo: "It's simple. Where there are automakers investing in motor sport, you'll find the best drivers, because they pay the best wages, have the best resources and so on.
"If more (automaker) leave F1 and come here you will also see more top drivers doing the change."
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