HILDEBRAND: Getting Up To Speed

J.R Hildebrand on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week. (IndyCar Photo)
J.R Hildebrand on track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week. (IndyCar Photo)

INDIANAPOLIS — It is always exciting to get back to Indianapolis and drive on the world’s greatest race track.

Neither me, nor team owner Ed Carpenter, has competed in a Verizon IndyCar Series race since last October’s MAVTV 500 at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif. I drove for Herta Autosport in that race. Thus, it is nice to get in a car and get up to speed.

It felt a little funny at first since it had been seven months since I had been in a race car. About the second lap, I said to myself, “Hey, let’s get with the program and get on it.” By about the third lap, I was flat on the throttle and wanting to go faster. I think I was in the 220s (mph) by lap three. That is a fun experience for me when you tell yourself to just go and drive the car hard for the first lap.

For me, it is so nice to come to Indy with a solid team and a fast race car. I’m driving the same car that Ed put on the pole here last year. Ed and his guys have a low-key, professional approach and I really like it. I would love to have more races with his squad and the Preferred Freezer Services car.

The first few days of practice at Indianapolis were interesting since the conditions were so different. On Sunday, it was a sunny day with low humidity, almost a perfect day at the track with little wind. Then, on Monday, it was hot, humid and windy, similar to a race day at Indy. So that was good to experience those two opposite weather days.

We have a new Firestone tire compound this year, so we have to get used to that also in the first couple of days of practice. The team is new for me, but I have my same crew chief, Dan Miller, from Panther Racing and a few other guys I have worked with in the past. That helps a lot with the comfort level for a driver.

Early on in the week, Ed and I had similar ideas on the direction we wanted to take with the race cars. It is great to have your teammate think along the same lines in terms of setup. You can move through your checklist of things quicker, too. It’s very important to have a teammate and the engineering staff on the same page.

If you don’t have that, you can be chasing your tail as you get closer to qualifying. I have little concern about the speed of the race car the Ed Carpenter team has given me. Like I said, it’s the pole car from last year.

Like Ed, I would be ecstatic to put the car on the front row or the pole this weekend. But to be honest, I wouldn’t care where I qualified for the 500 if I had a good race car. Last year, Ed was fast in the race but was disappointed with 10th because he felt he had a car to win. But the car wasn’t that good at the end of the race. If we finish outside the top five after starting on the front row, I would be disappointed, too.

Our concentration is on the car’s race setup. For me, I have felt that way since finishing second in 2011. It’s always been about getting the right setup on race day. And for Ed going through that last year, he knows that the race setup is the key to winning here.