Notes & Quotes: Indianapolis 500

This year JR Hildebrand joined AJ Foyt Racing’s full-time drivers Sebastien Bourdais and Dalton Kellett to compete in the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais will drive the No. 14 ROKiT Chevrolet, Dalton Kellett will pilot the No. 4 Insulators USA Chevrolet and Hildebrand will be in the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet which features a throwback livery honoring the 60th Anniversary of A.J. Foyt’s first of four Indy 500 triumphs. We asked them a few questions…

A.J. FOYT is the first four-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. He has also won the pole four times. He holds the record for consecutive starts at 35. A.J. shares his thoughts about winning the 1961 Indy 500 sixty years ago.

Q: What do you remember about the 1961 victory?

“It was a just a great victory. The biggest thing I remember is when I had taken the lead and then they gave me the sign board Late Fuel Stop. My fuel tank didn’t get full on the last stop. I felt like I lost the race right there. But then Sachs had to stop because he had worn out his right front tire running so hard trying to keep up with me because I had a light load of fuel. And then I won it. When you win a major race like the Indy 500 you’re thrilled to death. It’s hard for me to put into words how I felt. It was the biggest thrill of my life.”

Q: You met inaugural Indy 500 winner Ray Harroun that year which was the Golden Anniversary of the 500. What did he share with you on your trip to New York City for your appearance on the TV show I’ve Got a Secret?

“I talked to Ray Harroun during that trip and I asked him, ‘When did you know it was time to retire?’ He said, ‘It’ll just come to you.’ And I never forgot that. The day I retired here at Indianapolis, that’s what it did, I knew to was time to quit.”

Q: What do you think of the throwback livery on the No. 1 ABC Supply Chevrolet?

“I think it looks beautiful. They did a great job of matching it to my ‘61 car. I’m honored that ABC [Supply] wanted to celebrate the 60th anniversary of my first win here. But that relationship with ABC was more than just a sponsorship, we were like family. It meant a lot to me when they came on board for this race.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS qualified 27th with a four-lap average speed of 229.744 mph.

Q: Do you like your car in race trim? “Yes, obviously you don’t want to be overconfident but we definitely made some good progress in race trim on Sunday afternoon and it’s the happiest I’ve been with the race car for quite some time. I think there are a lot of guys who feel pretty strong with their cars so that’s the only drawback; but at least I feel I could be racy, I could get close, time moves and try to make things happen, rather than just be on the defense and getting caught out with a car whose behavior is a bit unpredictable. So definitely it was a pretty big step forward.”

Q: What is your game plan?

“There are a lot of cars that are out of position and I think the aggression level is going to be very high. As far as we’re concerned, we’re not going to want to put ourselves into sticky situations for the first 50 laps. We’ll try and get the positions that present themselves. You don’t want to stay too long in the back but I don’t think it is a very smart idea to rush moves and put yourself into positions where you could be really exposed. I’m feeling like seeing a stint and a half and seeing where things shake out and where we’re at. By that time, I’ll have a pretty good idea of where the race car is at and what our chances are. It is a double points race so we need to see the checkered flag, so that’s goal number one. If there are opportunities to make moves and get a solid result out of it, then I’ll be quite happy with that.”

Q: Is the fact you weren’t driving here last year a disadvantage?

“I don’t think so because last year’s race was a very odd one. It was very hot and clearly, the cars didn’t have enough downforce and it stretched [out] pretty quickly and made moves very difficult. I think this race is going to be extremely different in that respect. I think a lot of people are going to feel very racy and take a lot of chances which could cause a lot of yellows so we will have to be on our toes and heads up.”

JR HILDEBRAND qualified 22nd at a four-lap average speed of 229.980 mph.

Q: What has it been like working with A.J.’s team and A.J.?

“It’s been great. Working with a new team just for the 500, there are so many things that are different team to team and just getting used to that. Working with the crew on the Number 1 car, there were some familiar faces which made that transition easier. Within the general team as a whole, the engineering staff, the other mechanics and crew chiefs, and extending that to the drivers, to think we’ve only been working together for the last two weeks here, how well we’re communicating and how happy we are with the race cars heading into the race is a testament to the group as a whole. I’ve really been enjoying it. I really like my engineer Mike Colliver and a lot of people that I’d be really excited to work with again down the road. That’s not something you always feel doing these one-offs but I definitely feel it with this group of guys.

“Being on A.J.’s team and it being this tribute to his first win, a lot of people asked does it add some pressure or make it more difficult, and I’ve got to say, it’s just been a treat for me to be able to spend time around A.J. He says how much he appreciates being able to be here and it comes out — he’s obviously super competitive still and very involved in everything that’s going on with the team. You see that competitive fire so I’m glad it’s gone as well as it’s gone (laughing) because I’m not sure I’d really want to see the other side of it. To hear the stories and gain a little bit of his wisdom and be around him is such a cool experience. I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with Mario, Parnelli and the Unsers over the years, really the heroes of our sport from an era when it was so different. It really did make Indy what it is today. The 50s, 60s, 70s, that period of time and so to just soak a little bit of that in from actually being on A.J.’s squad and being around him that much and not just in passing, has been really cool.”

Q: Did anything surprise you about him?

“I think how with it and kind of involved with what the organization is doing still. I didn’t have an expectation of that either way. He’s at the track every day, he’s out there early, he’s mostly been on the 14 car’s timing stand but you see him up and down the pitlane keeping track of what’s going on, so it’s not just his name on the door. You can see he wants to be there so winning this race and being competitive here is obviously super important to him and I think that makes everyone else on the team enthusiastic about wanting to deliver.

Q: How is your car in race trim?

“I say this with cautious optimism but from the end of the day Thursday, I’ve been as happy with the car as I’ve been in a number of years here. We didn’t roll off the truck that way so to be able to feel that progress being made, particularly from Wednesday into Thursday, that’s exciting. And it was a really critical point for us. At the end of the day Wednesday, we had tried a bunch of stuff and were just hovering around it and couldn’t find the feeling that I was looking for or the speed in the car. After some pointed conversations with my engineer and within our group as a whole, we went into Thursday with a really clear plan of completely new things to try and had a couple of really big gains. That’s what makes that process exciting when one thing wakes the car up and really brings it to life. It was crucial for us to make those improvements or discoveries on that day because we needed to transition to qualifying on Friday. We still have some things to try but if we rolled into the race with what we had at the end of the day on Sunday, we feel really confident we are in a tuning window that we can do something with it. That’s exciting.

“Having a feeling that you can genuinely pass cars on the race track if you need to is what I’m looking for. I’ve had it here before and I know what it feels like, this is the first time in a few years I’m feeling like man if we have to and we’re going to from where we’re starting, I think I can get up there and make some moves which is exciting.”

DALTON KELLETT qualified 30th at a four-lap average speed of 228.323 mph.

Q: Your thoughts on starting your second Indy 500 having experience?

“Coming back for my second Indy 500 is very exciting. Having the benefit of some experience is very helpful. However, I am still the ‘greenest’ member of the Foyt crew, by a fair margin. I’ve taken every opportunity to learn from Seb, JR, and Charlie {Kimball]. Last year, everything was new. This year, I was able to go into it knowing what I wanted from the car. We’ve focused on traffic running in testing, and the car feels solid in the pack, I’m looking forward to Sunday!”

Q: How did you feel about qualifying on Saturday?: “Saturday was an emotional and intense day – but perhaps more so for everyone outside of the car! Being in the cockpit, waiting for my second run, I was able to just focus on the run ahead, get in the zone, and go execute. I knew we had made a big strategy call when we moved to lane 1 but I quickly got off of that forced myself to only think about driving. That kept everything relatively calm on my end!”

In memory of Klaus Wetzel 1951 – 2021

“The K-Line family recently lost one of our first and most beloved members,” said Dalton Kellett. “Klaus Wetzel was one of K-Line’s first employees and enjoyed a 50-year career with K-Line Maintenance and Construction. As the Fleet Manager, he kept trucks running across Canada, in shops from Ontario to Alberta. His leadership and guidance helped shape the standards that keep our crews safe and operations running efficiently and he helped pass that experience onto the next generation. He was a loving husband to Barbara, father to Brandon and Mark, and proud grandfather.”

To salute his legacy, the No. 4 Insulators USA Chevrolet will be sporting a memorial decal for Klaus during the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Liberty Coach returns as an associate sponsor of the No. 4 Insulators USA Chevrolet for the Indy 500. Liberty Coach is the premier manufacturer of Prevost motorcoach conversions, the finest recreational vehicles in the world. Last year marked the company’s first foray into motorsports sponsorship. The company’s logo will be featured on the aeroscreen of Kellett’s car and Kellett has been enjoying the use of a premier coach for the duration of the month of May.

Past Performance: This will be the ninth Indy 500 for Sebastien Bourdais. His best start is fifth in 2018 while his best finish is seventh in 2014. For JR Hildebrand, it will be his 11th Indy 500. He posted his best qualifying effort of sixth in 2017 while his best finish came as a rookie when he had to settle for second in the 2011 Indy 500. Dalton Kellett will be competing in his second Indy 500 and just his 14th NTT INDYCAR Series event. Last year at Indy, he qualified 24th and finished 31st.

The 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge will be broadcast live on NBC starting at 11 a.m. ET.