Monday, August 4, 2008

12 Questions with J.R. Hildebrand

First off, tell us about yourself; what do you enjoy outside of racing?

“Well, for starters I was born and raised in Northern California, graduating from Redwood High School before moving away to get more involved in my career. I've always played sports both for fun and in competition, so I would say that being outside and active are two of my favorite things to do outside of racing.”

Congrats on your acceptance to M.I.T. Have you decided on a field of study yet? Will this mean a hiatus or even a departure from racing, or is the IRL off-season long enough to not interfere too much with the school year?

“The people at MIT have been great about everything. When I first found out I got in, they gave me two years off to pursue my racing career, and have since extended that for another year. I have every intention of going back to school to get a higher education, but will not sacrifice my career in racing to do so. I may only have one legitimate chance to be successful, and it means too much to me right now to risk messing that up, so I'm going to be careful when deciding what to do. During my senior year of high school I was taking a calculus class and had an opportunity in racing that I couldn't pass up. Unfortunately that meant I was going to be gone from school for two weeks right before finals! I think it's safe to say that I'm one of a select few drivers who have ever done differential equations at the racetrack, but that's the only way I could keep up! It's tough to do both; I found that out pretty quickly. I had planned on going into mechanical engineering, but I guess that all depends a little bit on when I go and what stage of my life or career I'm in at that time.”

In 2006, you demolished the Formula Ford 2000 series, and had a solid season in 2007 in Atlantics. Your new teammate, Daniel Herrington, hasn't enjoyed the same level of success that you have. How do you think he will fare in the remainder of this Firestone Indy Lights season, and going into 2009?

“I've worked with Daniel before, and I think he's a great addition to the team. Success is all relative; he hasn't been in one car for very long or for a long stretch, but he's been competitive and I think he's a team player. Hopefully we can work together and finish the year strong.”

Any hints at an IndyCar Series car test or even a move up to ICS with RLR or any other team for 2009?

“It's tough for everyone right now to plan down the road because the schedule is so busy, particularly for the IndyCar teams. I would love to get a chance to get in the big car, and am confident that I could do a good job, but it's tough. Right now the team and I are trying to stay intently focused on finishing the year strongly, in the hope that that puts us in good standing by season's end.”

What has been the biggest adjustment you've had to make this season in the Firestone Indy Lights Series?

“Well, the obvious answer is that driving on ovals is the biggest adjustment, but there's definitely more to it than that. It requires such a different mindset, and even that changes drastically depending on the size and speed and all that. I feel like it's much more a mental and strategic type of racing, which I've definitely come to enjoy. As one could see by looking at the results, it really mixes things up in the championship as well. So I'd say that adjusting my preparation for such a variety of circuits has been the biggest change.”

What track on the Firestone Indy Lights schedule do you enjoy racing the most?

“I think the schedule of road courses is really stout in terms of the quality of tracks. Infineon Raceway is my home track and therefore my favorite. In regards to the ovals, Indianapolis is such a special and unique track that it's hard to beat. It was quite an experience just driving there let alone racing there, definitely making it my favorite non-road course.”

You had a great outing in Kansas, taking your first and the team's first victory in the Firestone Indy Lights Series there. Indy proved to be a bit more challenging for you and your team. Any insight on why Indianapolis Motor Speedway posted a greater challenge?

“Well to be entirely fair, I would say that we were equally, if not possibly even more competitive at Indy than at Kansas in the big scheme of things! We topped the first practice there by a big margin and had a chance to win the race from 21st on the grid after having to change motors after qualifying. It's a different animal for sure, but I felt like we were very good on the whole there. If there's one race of the year I wish I could get back, it's that one.”

Two races could hardly have been run under any more different conditions than the two earlier this month at Mid-Ohio. From a driver's perspective, how do you approach these two races? How from Race 1 to Race 2, did your approach to Turn 4 (Turn 9 as the track calls it) and your racing line through the esses change?

“We were having a little bit of a tough time finding our way that weekend to start with because we hadn't tested there and we wanted to try some things in practice. So we went into qualifying and the first race still looking to improve on what we had. It took a few laps in the first race to get a handle on what we had come up with, but when it's dry you can push pretty hard right away because it's at least a relatively known quantity. For the wet race I was expecting something a bit different. I had driven the car in the wet at Sebring earlier in the year and thought it was solid, but found myself in a much lower grip situation at Mid-Ohio and got caught out by that. I should have gone in with a more conservative outlook, especially since most everyone that should have been quick in the wet went off or crashed. It was a tough weekend but we pulled out with a better standing in the championship after all of it, so that was positive.”

Back in the spring, you gave pointers to a young karter and member of the IndyCar Garage, Laura (aka TopKartGirl). Do you still play a mentor role, and have you heard of her progress this year? How important is karting to the development of an IndyCar driver now?

“I always like helping people out because I know how much I appreciated it when I got help from other drivers when I was younger. I would love to know how she's doing, but I haven't heard anything lately. I think that karting is huge, especially with more and more road and street courses being added to the schedule. It gives drivers a lot of feel for what a race car is going to feel like, and it trains a driver's reactions very well.”

You've had a solid season so far. Fourth in the championship and -51 with four races left. Any thoughts on being able to catch Antinucci and Matos?

“I think realistically they will have to have a couple of bad races to get past either of them, but I think that we will be extremely quick and competitive for the remainder of the year. I feel like the tracks suit our strengths and we will be a threat right to the end.”

If you could spend a day at any track with any driver (past or present), what track and what driver would you choose?

“Wow, that's a nearly impossible question! I'm going to take the liberty of choosing a road course and an oval; I hope that's OK! I would spend a day with Ayrton Senna at Monaco and a day with Rick Mears at Indy. Both were masters both mentally and physically in their own right, and I wish I could have the chance to witness that first hand.”

Any comments for the dedicated IndyCar fans of IndyCar Garage?

“I think it's awesome that so many people are interested in what we do. I've been a fan for my entire life and still am, so to be able to take part in the sport first hand and share that with others is a great way to be involved. Thanks to everyone for all their support!”

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