This weekend 2009 IndyLights Champion, JR Hildebrand finally gets to make his IndyCar début at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
The 22-year-old is the next in line to replace the injured Mike Conway – who is expecting a return in a few weeks at Sonoma; a role that has also been filled by Tomas Scheckter, Graham Rahal and Paul Tracy.
So with this first drive fast approaching, I decided to check in with “Captain America” to see what he has been up to in the long wait for an IndyCar ride.
Formula 1 Archive: Since I was last in contact with you, you have been on the sidelines for much of the year – I can imagine the frustration must be immense?
JR Hildebrand: It’s definitely frustrating, but I figured there’s no use being bitter about it because it’s just how things go sometimes. I’ve seen it happen to enough other people that I tried to just keep my head down and work at making something happen rather than stressing about what was going to be next.
F1A: You have taken part in two ALMS races at Sebring and Long Beach, finishing 2nd and 3rd in your classes respectively with Genoa Racing. Although it’s not IndyCars, how much of a boost to your confidence are results like that? Will you be competing in any more ALMS races before season end?
JRH: There are definitely some other tracks on the ALMS schedule that are on my list of places to race at, but I don’t have any immediate plans of racing in the series this year. Doing the two races with Genoa early in the season was a great way to keep fresh, and I actually learned an immense amount about sportscar and endurance racing in my experiences with them. It’s an area of motorsport that I most certainly want to continue to be involved in as my career progresses.
F1A: Recently you drove John Watson’s 1976 Penske Formula 1 car at the Montreal Grand Prix Exhibition- how does it feel stepping into those vintage cars? Is it like a bit of a time warp?
JRH: It’s awesome, there’s no other way to describe it. The cars are so raw, so unrefined; I think I have more fun driving them than almost anything else purely from the standpoint of the physical and emotional driving experience. They have so much character, and they really allow you to express yourself behind the wheel. I’ve tended to like driving oversteering racecars, but modern cars are really meant to be hung out like those things were. The grip goes down, the slip angles go up, and so does the excitement.
F1A: I must admit, as someone that has a great love of the sport’s history, I’m quite jealous. Are vintage racing cars something you have a passion for?
JRH: Absolutely. Vintage racing is where I first got the bug. My dad had a vintage Trans Am car, a ’68 Camaro, so we were always at the races. It’s strange to say, but I almost feel like I grew up appreciating the cars and drivers from the ’50’s, ’60’s, and ’70’s as much as those from the modern day because I spent so much time around the sights and sounds of historic racing.
F1A: You have secured a seat with Dreyer & Reinbold for the upcoming IZOD IndyCar races at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, sitting in for the injured Mike Conway. Obviously replacing Conway in this manner is probably not the most ideal of situations, how do you prepare for a relatively sudden call up?
JRH: Well, I guess I would say that I’ve been preparing for this kind of thing since the end of last year. I’ve had a lot of deals nearly come together or slip through the cracks at the last minute, so I’ve made sure that I’m as prepared as I can possibly be for any situation. I train in Indy with PitFit Training along with Scott Dixon and Will Power, so from a fitness perspective I’ve always felt like I’ll be ready. More specifically for this, something that I think will help quite a bit was spending the weekend in Toronto with the team to really understand how things go throughout a race weekend. I learned a lot of little things by standing on the pit stand each session and listening to exactly what was going on.
F1A: Will you get to spend much briefing time with the team and engineers prior to the event?
JRH: I think that I will. I’ve already spent a bit of time one-on-one with the engineer I’ll be working with, and I also have a test day prior to the event, so my hope is certainly that we’ll have had enough time to be sorted.
F1A: Have you any prospects or aims for the two IndyCar events?
JRH: It’s hard to say, really. I obviously have aspirations, but I’ve learned not to focus on attaining specific results at the same time. In a general sense, my aim will be to operate at my maximum level amidst a fairly different environment. I feel like if I can achieve that, then it’s quite possible that we can put together some strong performances.
F1A: Has there been any movement for a more permanent or even a part-time seat for 2011 yet or is it something that you are still being working on?
JRH: For sure it’s a work in progress. There are some things that have looked promising over the last couple of months for next year, but there hasn’t been anything that I can take to the bank yet. Surely a couple of good races wouldn’t hurt my chances.
My thanks to JR Hildebrand.
Personally I can’t wait to finally see JR in a seat this weekend. The 2010 IndyCar Honda Grand Prix of Mid-Ohio is on live on Sky Sports 4 at 8pm (BST) this Sunday. Both qualifying and the race for the IndyCar and IndyLights events will be shown on indycar.com.