TSO Feature Blogger – J.R. Hildebrand – “The first day of practice was a good, solid start towards our team’s overall Indy 500 program.”

TSO would like to welcome J.R. Hildebrand as our guest blogger for the “Month of May.” The eight-time Indianapolis 500 starter is back with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for a second year with software as a service provider Salesforce.com returning to sponsor the Sausalito, Calif. native. We’re looking forward to Hildebrand’s insight on what goes on behind the scenes in Gasoline Alley between the driver, his crew and engineering staff.


Hi, this is J. R. Hildebrand and thanks for keeping track with us this May. I returned to the Dreyer & Reinbold Racing team for the 103rd Indy 500 and I’m excited to drive the No. 48 Salesforce Chevrolet. This year’s Salesforce machine is running the No. 48 in tribute to one of my heroes, the late and great Dan Gurney. Many of Dan’s Indy cars over the years campaigned the No. 48, so I thought it would be a great tribute to Dan. We are running the same script 48 as Dan’s All American Racers team.

J.R. Hildebrand get ready for the first day of practice in preparation for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR- Joe Skibinski)

Coming back to Indy is always special since it is the most significant auto race in the world and my passion to compete here is always strong. So, I thought I would give the TSO readership an idea of what goes on in the garages with our engineers and our crew.

Tuesday was the first practice on the famous 2.5-mile oval track, and I was excited to get back on the racing surface after we ran a few laps in the Indy 500 testing last month. After getting through our refresher laps at the test, I was able to run in the morning session with the NTT IndyCar Series regular and veterans.

We did a lot of running of the car Tuesday including 113 laps. There were a lot of new items on the cars with the various aero setups and we wanted to see how those pieces worked. Early on, we ran our laps alone and went through the list of changes with my engineer, Eric Petersen, and Sage’s engineer, Jeff Britton. Jeff has been at IMS for decades and knows this place. Eric is new to DRR but not IndyCars and racing in general. Jeff and Eric worked together back in the 2000s with the Rahal Letterman team. And I have the 2004 Indy 500 champion Buddy Rice as my turn one spotter, as well. Buddy brings a great perspective to the overall DRR team, from his past driving career as well as watching the action from high above turn one.

We ran a full range of aero pieces today and collected a lot of data. So, we ran many laps on Tuesday. We didn’t want to run in big packs until the end of the day. Once we had tested out what we had done with the new stuff on the car, we decided to get in the mix with some packs. And we ran with a full fuel load too. We ran a pretty decent number and the car felt good for the end of the first day of practice.

After 113 laps, I feel good in the car. Not tired. It always good to out and just run laps. The weather was a little warmer than predicted. And, with the new sealer on the track surface, it was a good chance to really see how the track would be throughout the day. With a longer day, it conditioned your vision and body to being back at IMS after not being in a car for some time. Especially when you are not fulltime.

The DRR guys have done an outstanding job with the race car. It looks great and I feel we are on a trajectory and direction that will keep us getting more out of the car. I feel comfortable in the car after the first day and that we have a grasp of what we need from it. Last year, at the end of the first day, we and everyone else had no idea what was going on right now with this new car. But this year, it feels pretty good.

There were some big numbers put up on Tuesday and it didn’t really surprise me. These guys are pros. They are going to get out there and get with the program right away. For me, you have a few nerves wanting to get out there on the track. We got a little taste of what it was going to be like at the end of the test. And I felt there were some things we needed to improve to feel really racey.

The No. 48 DRR Salesforce on track during the first day of practice for the 103rd Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge (Photo Courtesy of INDYCAR – Chris Owens)

After the test, that sits with you for a few weeks and then you get antsy to want to work to make the car better. I feel better at the end of the day on Tuesday, then the end of the day yesterday when I was getting ready and thinking about practice runs.

Eric and I worked together well on Tuesday and we’ll continue to communicate. And I think we’ll get to understand each other’s language as we move along. But right now, it seems very good. We are on the same page.
I look forward to the rest of the practice week.