Scholarship Winner Hildebrand Impresses -- and is Impressed -- During First UK Visit
Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (October 24, 2005) ---- The latest winner of the prestigious Team USA Scholarship, J.R. Hildebrand from Sausalito, Calif., has returned home from a busy journey to England in preparation for his prize of a funded drive in the upcoming six-race Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy series.
The races will take place over two weekends next month at Snetterton (November 5/6) and Brands Hatch (November 12/13).
Hildebrand, 17, began his trip by visiting the Formula Palmer Audi base at Bedford Autodrome, around 70 miles north of London, for a seat-fitting in his #4 car resplendent in its patriotic, red-white-and-blue Team USA Scholarship colors. The following day, once dense fog had finally lifted, Hildebrand gained his first on-track experience in the turbocharged, 300hp, open-wheel machine. The youngster was quickly up to speed, posting the fastest time of the day.
"It was a great experience and a wonderful tutorial to what I will be up against come raceday," said Hildebrand. "It has significantly more power than any other car I have driven and much larger tires. What I was not expecting was the weight of the car and the amount of aerodynamic grip. I suppose my expectation was that it was to be a much more powerful version of an FF2000 car, but I had to work much harder to balance the car, and to keep it balanced.
"I was extremely impressed by the FPA organization. It is obviously quite an undertaking, and is run in a very professional way. It speaks volumes about their commitment to young drivers like myself on their way through the auto racing ranks."
Hildebrand then visited both of the race tracks on which he will compete next month. He was able to turn several laps in a road car at each venue and gain some kind of perspective on what to expect when he returns for the races.
"Brands Hatch seems to be a very technical circuit, busy but exciting at the same time," he noted. "Even driving the rental car, I felt like I could really get into a rhythm going around the track, as it flows very well. It is quite apparent that it is a very high-class facility as well.
"Snetterton was also quite interesting, more for its mix of slow, medium and high speed corners, as well as the two long straights that looked very conducive to passing.
"I think both tracks will produce some great racing in the FPA cars and I can hardly wait to get back there."
One more treat awaited Hildebrand before he returned home to continue his studies in his final year of high school: a visit to the Huntingdon headquarters of Lola Cars, one of the world's foremost racing car manufacturers which, among other high-profile projects, currently supplies the entire Champ Car World Series field.
"I was impressed both by the facility and the graciousness of everyone there," said Hildebrand. "To see the amount of detail that is put into every single product was unbelievable. It was also interesting to be able to view the array of cars that Lola produces, from Champ Cars to the A1 Grand Prix cars to Le Mans prototypes, and to witness how involved each project is. I left with quite an enlightened view of how difficult and important each individual step really is in the production process."
Hildebrand will return to England early next month in readiness for his first-ever overseas races at Snetterton.
The first Team USA Scholarship was awarded in 1990 to Jimmy Vasser, who is now the elder statesman of the Champ Car World Series after winning the championship in 1996. Subsequent winners have included Champ Car and Indy Car race winner Bryan Herta (1991), NASCAR race winner Jerry Nadeau (1993), Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice (1997), last year's Champ Car World Series Rookie of the Year A.J. Allmendinger (2001) and current Grand-Am Rolex Series standouts Memo Gidley (1995), Paul Edwards (1998/'99), Andy Lally (1999) and Joey Hand (2000).