RLR/Andersen Racing's Hildebrand Is a Fast Learner; Posts Second-Fastest Time in Firestone Indy Lights Practice Friday

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., April 4 - Even though he's never driven on St. Petersburg's street course before, J.R. Hildebrand got things off to a great start for Palmetto, Fla.-based RLR/Andersen Racing by setting the second-fastest time of the day in Firestone Indy Lights practice here Friday.

The series will stage twin 40-lap races here Saturday and Sunday as part of the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

With staff and guests of Allied Building Products Corp. looking on, the Indianapolis-based driver posted a time of 1:07.5857 in the second practice session to end up second for the day. His best lap for the 1.8-mile, 14-turn road course in the Allied Interior Products No. 25 came at an average speed of 95.878 miles per hour.

Hildebrand's best lap was the 24th of 26 he turned in the one-hour afternoon session. Only Raphael Matos was faster, but it wasn't by much. Matos's best lap was a 1:07.4950 for an average speed of 96.007 mph.

Hildebrand was fourth overall in the first practice session with a 1:08.4615 at 94.652 mph.

His teammate, Andrew Prendeville of Las Vegas, was tenth in the afternoon session with his Best Friends Animal Society No. 5 with a lap in 1:08.5725 (94.499 mph). He was 11th in the morning session with a 1:09.1862 (93.660 mph).

"It was a good showing for the team," Hildebrand said. "We came out strong right out of the gate. I have a really good teammate in Andrew Prendeville. We're working together to get our cars better, and we'll continue to do that when we go over the data tonight.

"It's a big race for us as a team because we're based in Palmetto," he added. "We also have a lot of people from Allied here."

Although Hildebrand is a series rookie and has never raced here before, he said his Atlantic experience on street courses last year helped. Still, he said the course is very unforgiving. "There are no run offs, and no margin for error," he noted.

"I lived in St. Petersburg for a year, and I really like the area," Hildebrand continued. "Although today was the first day I've ever driven on the course, I walked the track before they set it up this year. I also visualized the track a lot in order to prepare for this weekend."

Qualifications to determine the starting line-up for Saturday afternoon's race will be held Saturday morning from 10:05 a.m. to 10:35 a.m.

The first 40-lap race in the series doubleheader is scheduled to get the green flag at 4:45 p.m. Saturday.

The starting line-up for Sunday's race will be based on the finishing positions from Saturday's race, except a draw will determine if the first four, six or eight finishers will be inverted, or if none will be inverted. The winner of the first race will do the drawing.

The second race is slated for 10:45 a.m. Sunday. ESPN2 will show both races at 2 p.m. Eastern on Thursday, April 10. Live timing and scoring is available at indycar.com.

-credit: rlr/ar