Hildebrand thrilled with first top-three finish for six years
Ed Carpenter Racing-Chevrolet’s JR Hildebrand says he’s looking forward to “being able to make good” on his Phoenix performance that saw him start and finish third, and prove one of very few drivers to make successful passing maneuvers.
Hildebrand, who had to miss the previous IndyCar round at Barber Motorsports Park due to a broken bone in his left hand, incurred in a last-lap shunt at Long Beach, was the only consistent threat to the four Penske drivers all weekend. He split them in half in qualifying by claiming P3, and on race night he finished just a quarter-second behind runner-up Will Power.
The Colorado-based Californian told reporters: “I was definitely anxious to make good on the speed that we had here in pre-season testing. The team has a great short oval package; I know that from doing some testing last year.
“So I’m excited to get the result for the team, for sure. The car was bitchin'. I think at the end of the race we had obviously one of the top three cars, but I think we might have had the best car on the track.
“It feels good to know that we've got that in us for the next couple of races. It's a strong result heading into May. I can only say positive things about our race. We look forward to being able to make good on that going forward from here.”
Hildebrand, who earlier in the weekend had mentioned that his left-hand was only giving him trouble cranking the wheel into and out of the confines of his pitbox, played down the effect the race might have had on his recent surgery.
“It really wasn't that bad,” he remarked. “I think I'll be dealing with some swelling. Going out for that final stint on sticker [new] tires the first couple laps, I was like, ‘Holy shit, the steering is super heavy.’
“But in terms of my hand actually bugging me, it was no stress. I think we'll be good to go at Gateway [test] on Tuesday and hopefully be ready to rock and roll for the whole month of May.”
“I think it's definitely something that we needed in the team, to be able to come to somewhere we knew we'd be good at. The first couple of races have been a little bit challenging, just getting things dialed in. The field is so stacked and competitive here in the IndyCar Series these days, it's difficult to come away with consistent, good results.
“This is somewhere we looked at on the schedule and knew we would have a fighting chance at it. I think coming away with a good weekend, executing at a high level, definitely builds some confidence going into the month of May, where we'll hope to do that again.”
Hildebrand also paid tribute to Justin Taylor, his race engineer, for whom this was the first oval race, after his career as engineer in Audi Sport’s World Endurance Championship program.
“Justin's been awesome,” he said. “To come into this whole thing and not know the car… We're at a whole bunch of tracks that he's not seen. Certainly the oval aspect of it is a lot to get used to.
“It starts with just the development work that the team has done as a whole. We come into these places feeling really confident that if we don't touch anything and roll the thing out in qualifying or race trim, that we'll be kind of in the window. That goes a long way.
“I think it's definitely the start of good things to come for us. Hopefully we can get on a little bit of a roll heading into the thick of the season.”
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