Hildebrand gets second straight Top 5 at Long Beach

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Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand turned up the wick late in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to claim fifth at the finish for his second consecutive Top-5 at the fabled street course. The American was the top Chevrolet-powered driver at the end of the afternoon following Honda’s lockdown of the top four positions with winner Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti.

A strong pit stop on Lap 51 enabled Hildebrand to climb into ninth position and over the final stint, he gained multiple spots on the track until he raced into the Top 5 before the caution came out for a incident with two laps to go involving Panther DRR teammate Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.

“I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop,” said Hildebrand, who needed a good run following a bizarre DNF at St. Petersburg and a 17th place finish at Barber Motorsports Park.

“…I didn’t see [the Servia/Kanaan incident] because I’d let those guys go a little bit while we were saving to make sure we had enough fuel. I saw some tire smoke as I approached Turn 1 and was able to split through the middle. Really happy to get another Top 5 here for the second year in a row, but we’ll make sure we put the work in to make sure we’re ready to rock and roll next race. If we continue to make gains like we have we’ll be running up front with the big boys a lot more often.”

As for Servia, he was initially hit with a 30-second penalty by IndyCar for avoidable contact following the run-in with Kanaan. However, the series rescinded the call upon further review of the incident and the Spaniard was allowed to keep his sixth place result.

Al Unser Jr. back in IndyCar after a decade away: ‘Life is very good’

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There’s been somewhat of a hole in Al Unser Jr.’s heart ever since he retired from racing in 2007.

It was a void, something was missing.

But now, after a decade away from racing, Unser has found the right medicine to fill that hole in his heart: he’s back in the racing game again.

No, he’s not driving again (although he does participate occasionally in vintage races), but the two-time Indianapolis 500 (1992 and 1994) winner is definitely back in the IndyCar world.

And he couldn’t be happier.

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “Since I stepped out of the race car and retired from racing, there’s been something missing from my life, and it’s racing.”

Unser has hooked up with Harding Racing. The team competed in three races last season as a ramp-up for a full 17-race effort this season. While Unser’s official title with the team is “consultant,” he’s involved in so much more.

His main role is as a driving coach to 2015 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Gabby Chaves. But he’s also involved in so many other areas, including helping the team obtain sponsorships and much more.

He then added, “I’m involved in every sense of the word except actually driving the car. And I’m happy about that because I’m too old to drive the car.”

Unser, who won CART championships in 1990 and 1994, is now 55. He’s so involved with his new job that he even moved from his native New Mexico and has relocated to suburban Indianapolis.

Not only is it a new start for Unser, it also is for Chaves. After running all 16 races in 2015 for Bryan Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian, he competed in just seven races for Dale Coyne Racing in 2016 and only three races for Harding Racing last season.

But he definitely impressed the team, with a fifth- (Texas) and ninth-place (Indianapolis 500) finish in the first two races and 15th (Pocono) in the team’s final run of the season.

That’s why when Harding Racing decided to go fulltime in 2018, Chaves was their pick for behind the wheel. And Unser was their pick to help guide him to potential stardom in the series.

“(Team owner) Mike Harding is definitely a person that when he decides to do something, he does it right,” Unser told IndyCar.com. “The potential for this organization is through the sky. We’re all working really hard here and we see the potential.”

And as for Unser?

“Life is good, life is very good,” he told IndyCar.com. “We’re back full force, eager and better than ever.”

Click here for the full story about Unser from IndyCar.com.