St. Pete II: RLR/Andersen Racing race report

RLR/Andersen's Hildebrand Finishes Second In Sunday's St. Pete Indy Lights Race ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., April 6 - Series rookie J.R. Hildebrand gave Palmetto, Fla.-based RLR/Andersen Racing its best finish ever in Firestone Indy...

RLR/Andersen's Hildebrand Finishes Second In Sunday's St. Pete Indy Lights Race

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., April 6 - Series rookie J.R. Hildebrand gave Palmetto, Fla.-based RLR/Andersen Racing its best finish ever in Firestone Indy Lights competition by finishing second Sunday on the St. Petersburg street course in the Allied Building Products No. 25.

The runner-up finish came in only the fifth start ever in this series for Hildebrand, a native of Sausalito, Calif., who resides in Indianapolis. It was also the second top-five finish for Hildebrand in less than 24 hours, as he finished fifth Saturday in the first half of the Firestone Indy Lights doubleheader that supported the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg IndyCar race.

The race was quite wild, and Hildebrand escaped numerous close calls to take the checkered flag 1.5415 seconds behind Richard Antinucci. Logan Gomez was third followed by Dillon Battistini and Sean Guthrie.

Hildebrand's RLR/Andersen Racing teammate, Andrew Prendeville of Las Vegas, was the victim of one of the numerous accidents. He ended up 20th, completing 22 of the 40 laps in the Best Friends Animal Society No. 5.

Hildebrand started fifth and Prendeville started seventh. The two drivers who started alongside them, Arie Luyendyk Jr. and Cyndie Allemann, gave the RLR/Andersen drivers their first close call when Luyendyk and Allemann came together in Turn 4 on lap one, collecting five other cars in the process. When all the noses were counted neither of the RLR/Andersen cars were involved, and Hildebrand was now fourth and Prendeville was fifth.

Antinucci passed Prendeville for fifth on the restart on lap seven, but the green was only out for two laps before another yellow waved for an incident involving Chris Festa and Juan Manuel Polar in Turn 1.

Hildebrand got by Raphael Matos for third on the restart on lap 11, while Prendeville bided his time in sixth. Matos got third back when he passed Hildebrand on lap 13. A few seconds later Antinucci wiggled by too to push Hildebrand back to fifth, right in front of Prendeville, by lap 14.

They stayed together in those positions until lap 22 when Bobby Wilson and Prendeville had contact in Turn 7 as Wilson was trying to overtake Prendeville. Both cars ended up in a tire barrier. Prendeville got his car unstuck and continued back to the pits but his day was done, as was Wilson's.

Hildebrand, meanwhile, was still in fifth place. Polesitter Jeff Simmons, who had led from the start, and Matos tangled with 25 laps down, which vaulted Ana Beatriz into first place on lap 26 followed by Antinucci and Hildebrand.

The officials made Hildebrand come in to examine a possible oil leak under that yellow, but there wasn't one and he was allowed to restart in third place when the action resumed on lap 31. Gomez, who had worked his way up to fourth, hit Hildebrand on the restart but Hildebrand was able to shrug it off and keep control.

His closest call was still to come though. Antinucci hit Beatriz on lap 32 in Turn 1, and Hildebrand had to take evasive action to miss Beatriz by just inches in a real heart-stopper that may prove to be one of the most exciting moves of the season. Pablo Donoso wasn't as lucky, as he and Beatriz came together a little later in Turn 2 before the proverbial dust had settled.

The top five for the restart were Antinucci, Hildebrand, Gomez, Battistini and Guthrie. The green came out once more on lap 37 but the top five didn't change. After the race, series officials penalized Antinucci 10 points for avoidable contact with Beatriz, but they let his victory stand.

There were five caution flags in all, for 16 of the 40 laps.

With the runner-up finish Hildebrand is now fourth in the point standings, only one point out of third place, while Prendeville is now tenth.

Hildebrand's fastest race lap was a 1:08.2779 for an average speed of 94.905 miles per hour turned on lap 16. Prendeville's fastest race lap, lap 20, was done in 1:08.7425 for an average speed of 94.265 mph.

The St. Pete Indy Lights doubleheader will be covered on ESPN2 at 2 p.m. Eastern time on April 10.

RLR/Andersen Racing is sponsored by Allied Building Products Corp. It is the development team of Rahal Letterman Racing. Its Web sites are at andersenracingteam.com and andersenracepark.com.

J.R. Hildebrand:
"We had a pretty good car. I couldn't get through the hairpin as well as I would have liked, which was why I couldn't take advantage of the restarts. I think I would have been closer to him [Antinucci] at the end without that problem, but it's the team's best finish ever so I'm happy.

"There was a lot of defensive driving out there, and a lot of racing incidents. The guys were pushing it to the limit and running out of grip.

"My closest call was the one at the end when Richard [Antinucci] got into Bea [Ana Beatriz] in Turn 1. She didn't hit the brakes and was headed right towards me, so I jumped on it and got by, but it was only by inches. I was waiting for it [the impact].

"There definitely was a lot of defensive driving at the end.

"I know the RLR/Andersen team is really good at what they do. I've had a lot of success working with the Capes. We intend to be on the podium all the time, and we'll keep working to make it happen."

Andrew Prendeville:
"I'm happy for Allied and for our team.

(About the accident) "It was a foolish move on Bobby's part and it took me out of the race. That's it."

Dan Andersen (team co-owner):
"We had a terrific result today from J.R., who demonstrated exceptional ability to avoid a problem in Turn 1. It was unfortunate that Andrew was taken out by another competitor, who incidentally has apologized.

"The crew did a great job. They were able to make changes to the cars' set-up from yesterday to adapt to the changing track conditions. The whole team did an outstanding job at what is now our home event.

"Our guests from Allied certainly had an exciting race to watch, and J.R. was able to put their logo on the podium. I should add that it was a delight having Bobby Rahal on the timing stand with us during today's race too.

"This coming Friday we will test at Indy, which is always special. Andrew had a terrific run in the Freedom 100 there last year. We will continue to work hard, but I'm really excited to be going to Indy with both Andrew and J.R. this year."

-credit: rlr/ar

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