Photo Credit: norcalcarculture.com
We recently had the pleasure of asking 2011 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year and race runner-up JR Hildebrand a few questions about the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500 and would like to thank him for the time he took to answer these questions. Here are the questions and answers:
On game days, NFL players get hit time and time again, and are always sore the day after due to the constant forces and impacts they are withstanding over a 2-3 hour time span. Being an IndyCar driver and experiencing forces far greater than those experienced by NFL players, what is it like to not only be sore after a hard crash, but after driving a race on an extremely rough, bumpy street course like Long Beach or Belle Isle?
Well, I think we definitely undergo longer periods of sustained forces than many other athletes just given the G-forces that the cars can now generate, though it takes a big crash to see the peak G’s that an NFL player for example would see in a lot of their collisions. Either way, it’s a physically demanding situation. Each circuit is different in terms of how the driver’s body is loaded and some of them can be rather extreme. After particularly harsh circuits, driver’s will often take a day or two just to give their bodies some rest.
How do you block out the fact that the Indianapolis 500 is the greatest race in the world and get in the car, calm yourself down, and drive? There must be a lot of nerves involved.
In many ways you have to ignore that the stage is so big and just focus on what you’re doing in the moment in the racecar. That’s the key to performing in a lot of situations, even on a testing day when nobody’s watching. So while it’s tough when you know how big of a deal the race is, it’s not the only time of the year you have to think about what you’re focusing on.
How did you get into racing itself and how did that lead you to become an IndyCar driver?
I got into racing when I was a kid because my dad had a vintage racecar and we spent a lot of weekends checking out a variety of racing series’ at both Sears Point in Sonoma and Laguna Seca in Monterey. I was always intrigued by the cars and how they evolved, in addition to the speed. I rode BMX bikes and did downhill mountain biking when I was younger so definitely had the desire to go fast, when I got a chance to drive a serious go-kart it was intoxicating. I raced karts for a couple years transitioning to open-wheel cars when I was 16, then raced in F2000, the Champ Car Atlantic Series, and finally Indy Lights. I raced for good teams and won championships almost every other year from when I started karting in 2002 through Lights in 2009, so that gave me the bump to take a shot at IndyCar.
Now that you are only in the IndyCar series part-time for the Indianapolis races, are you spending time driving other cars somewhere else in the world? If so, what are they, and if not, do you plan on racing anywhere professionally or even coming back to IndyCar full-time?
The aim over the last three years has been to get back in to IndyCar racing full-time. I’ve been very close to deals that would have made that happen without interest over that time period diminishing, so it remains my focus. In my time away from the track I have driven other cars and actively seek out other driving opportunities, but have also focused on diversifying what I’m involved in – I’ve been appointed a lecturer at Stanford University this year for their School of Engineering to work with their autonomous car programs, and am quite engaged with how emerging technologies can affect education.
One of the first things you are supposed to do when your IndyCar spins is let go of the wheel, to prevent damage to your hands like we saw with Charlie Kimball in 2012 at Mid-Ohio. How hard is it, in that split second that you start to spin, to tell yourself and give yourself faith that you NEED to let go when you’re in an uncontrollable machine traveling at speeds of over 200 miles per hour, about to make contact with a wall? As a fan, it would seem like that letting go is easier said than done. Is it?
Yeah, a lot of the time it’s hard to do because you want to believe you can still save it to the very end. For me it’s always been more of that than not being able to react fast enough, and I think most other drivers would agree.
What are some of the highlights of your IndyCar career, and what are some of your scariest moments?
Good races and good battles are always the highlights for me, sometimes irrespective of finishing position. I had the pleasure of racing against Dario before he retired for a few years, so when I raced him side by side for position that stands out just because you always knew you were fighting in the heavyweight class at that point. I remember passing him for 4th at Iowa my rookie year after working at it for several laps during the final stint and being pretty damn impressed with myself, although he had a few words for me afterward about the pass. Fontana in 2012 was cool, too – i was one of the earlier guys to go to the high line in our first year back, and we trimmed out for the race expecting that we’d run up there all day. I had a serious lead after two stints, had broken the draft and we were just driving away from everyone. It’s rare at the IndyCar level that you have any point in time in any race where you literally feel like you’re just burying everyone, so that was cool to have done, even if it was short lived. There’s lots more. One of my only really scary moments was the Vegas accident in 2011 – I was at the front end of that. I was right behind the first two cars that got out of shape on the high line and had nowhere to go. I hit one of those cars and went nose-up as my car basically leapfrogged the spinning car that had been in front of me. Front wheels off the ground at 200mph looking up at the sky in that moment is by far the most helpless feeling I’ve had behind the wheel because you know that you’re at the mercy of physics at that point and there’s nothing you can do.
What is it like driving as a teammate to your car owner, Ed Carpenter, as you’ve done the past couple of seasons at Indy?
Honestly it’s been great. Ed has been both a good team owner and a good teammate separately, so he’s great as those things together. They rarely get in the way of each other it seems, so I know when I’m talking to Ed the owner and Ed the driver. He, Josef, and the rest of the ECR staff are the biggest reason I wanted to come back to this team this year – I think together we have a hell of a shot at sealing the deal on Memorial Day Weekend.
-Asher Fair, SportsPress CEO