Both of RLR/Andersen Racing's Drivers Finish in Top 10 in Indy Lights Season Opener HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 29 - RLR/Andersen Racing's Andrew Prendeville and J.R. Hildebrand both recorded solid top-10 finishes in the Firestone Indy Lights season...
Both of RLR/Andersen Racing's Drivers Finish in Top 10 in Indy Lights Season Opener
HOMESTEAD, Fla., March 29 - RLR/Andersen Racing's Andrew Prendeville and J.R. Hildebrand both recorded solid top-10 finishes in the Firestone Indy Lights season opener Saturday at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Prendeville, of Las Vegas, passed the winner twice and finished sixth in the Best Friends Animal Society No. 5, completing all 67 laps for his Racing Laps for Best Friends program.
Although it was his first oval-track race ever, Hildebrand improved more positions than any of the 23 drivers in the race, 13 spots. The Indianapolis-based driver and series rookie brought the Allied Building Products No. 25 from last to tenth at the checkered.
The 67-lap event ran non-stop for the first 49 laps until a yellow waved on lap 50 for three laps due to debris in Turn 3. On lap 56 another yellow flew when James Davison hit the outside wall in Turn 4. Davison wasn't hurt, his yellow only took four laps to clean up, and he actually finished the race two laps down.
Those were the only yellows. Despite the carnage that has occurred here in the past, this year's race was fast and it set a record for cars running at the finish with 23, as everyone was still running at the end. The previous mark was 21 set last year at the second race at Watkins Glen International.
Both of the RLR/Andersen Racing drivers fought hard throughout the event, not only with their rivals but also with an understeer condition that developed with both of their cars with the lack of yellows in the Florida heat. Despite the challenge they persevered and kept their cars off the wall in what was a wild race at times, with cars running three- and four-abreast periodically.
Prendeville qualified fourth but got one position before the race started when his fellow Row 2 qualifier, Sean Guthrie, spun on cold tires before the green. As Prendeville worked with the adjustments he could make to his car's handling characteristics from the cockpit, he slipped to fifth by lap five and seventh by lap 11, but then he passed Bobby Wilson and ran in sixth place for the next 14 laps, trying to figure out a way around the driver who went on to win the race, Dillon Battistini.
Prendeville did pass Battistini on lap 26 to move back into fifth place. Battistini got back around him on lap 29, but Prendeville remained in fifth because Arie Luyendyk Jr. fell back at that point. On lap 30 Prendeville repassed Battistini once again to claw his way back up to fourth, as only the leader, Richard Antinucci; the polesitter, Raphael Matos, and Ana Beatriz were ahead of him at that time.
Prendeville stayed in fourth place for seven more laps, but then Battistini passed him on lap 37 to push him back to fifth. He ran in fifth for 16 more laps, but then fell back to seventh on the restart after the caution for debris when Logan Gomez and Wilson got by.
The rest of the race was a total seesaw for Prendeville position-wise. He ran in either seventh or sixth place for 10 more laps, but he'd dropped to tenth with two laps to go. There was a wild scramble throughout the top five in the last three laps as many other drivers were having handling problems too, and all of their Firestone Firehawk tires had taken a beating. Prendeville came through like a champ though, vaulting from tenth on lap 65 to eighth on lap 66 and sixth at the checkered on lap 67.
The tone of Hildebrand's race was different but equally challenging. After problems in qualifying he had to play catch-up in the race, while simultaneously remaining patient as he tried to save his tires.
Hildebrand didn't break into the top 15 until lap 21, when he passed former Andersen Racing Star Mazda driver Pablo Donoso. He stayed in 15th for 14 laps, and then advanced to 14th when he got by Davison.
Hildebrand's fans were cheering on lap 41 when he moved from 14th to 12th by passing both Cyndie Alleman and Al Unser III on the backstretch. He was still in 12th when the yellow for debris occurred, but he advanced two more spots on the restart to move into the top 10 when he passed Chris Festa and Gomez had problems.
Hildebrand moved into ninth place on lap 58 when Wilson was penalized for passing under the white line. He lost two spots on lap 62 and got pushed back to 11th, and on lap 63 he found himself running right behind Prendeville. The teammates exchanged positions on lap 65, but then Prendeville moved up to sixth at the end and Hildebrand moved back one spot to finish tenth.
The top 10 were Battistini, Antinucci, Brent Sherman, Luyendyk Jr., Festa, Prendeville, Beatriz, Matos, Wade Cunningham and Hildebrand.
Prendeville's fastest race lap was a 29.1215 (183.576 miles per hour) set on lap 20. Hildebrand's was a 29.1969 (183.102 mph) set on lap seven.
After testing at Sebring, Fla. on Monday, the Palmetto, Fla.-based team will head to the event closest to their team headquarters, as they have a doubleheader that is part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg in St. Petersburg, Fla. this coming Saturday and Sunday.
Andrew Prendeville: "Overall I'm happy with the way the weekend went. We know we have the speed on our own. We can qualify well. At the same time the race was disappointing. The Best Friends Animal Society car had a massive understeer in the race. Most people seemed to be having that, but mine seemed to be the worst. Anytime somebody was on the high side of me, there was no way I was getting through the corner alive unless I lifted.
"On the restarts when the tires were cooler the car was good. I tried to capitalize on that, and that's how I was able to get back up to sixth.
"We finished all 67 laps, and we thank everyone who made donations to Best Friends on racinglapsforbestfriends.com. It was still a good start to the season. It certainly makes us more confident for the oval races, and I'm really looking forward to St. Pete next weekend."
J.R. Hildebrand: "On the start I ended up falling back a bit; with no yellows it took longer to get by the slower cars, so for a good chunk of the race I was just playing catch-up. The Allied Building Products car picked up an understeer almost immediately, so I tried to make adjustments and manage both the car and my Firestone Firehawk tires the best I could.
"When that yellow came out around lap 50, I was able to catch up with some more cars, but when I was running with other cars I picked up more understeer. I tried to be smart and pick off a couple of guys when I could. Once I drove between two guys on the backstretch. I just needed to be able to catch up to some guys so I could keep it flat out and keep going.
"I had a really good car, actually. If I hadn't had to start at the rear, it would have been a top-five finish.
"I'll take what I learned in my first race on an oval, and be that much better the next time."
Dan Andersen (RLR/Andersen Racing co-owner): "Although I'm disappointed because we know we could have had better results here, we're pleased that we had two top-10 finishes. We have a few car set-up things we need to work on in order to give our drivers cars they can win with. But that said, I'm very proud of our entire team and I'm also very proud of the way these two guys drove, especially during the last three laps when things were really wild."