Rahal, Hildebrand celebrate early January birthdays, seek better 2014s

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Two of America’s up-and-coming IndyCar drivers have had birthdays in the last 24 hours, and each seeks a bounceback 2014 season.

Graham Rahal turns 25 today. The son of 1986 Indianapolis 500 champion Bobby also drives for his father’s IndyCar team, and has already enjoyed a pair of successful tests this offseason working with new engineer Bill Pappas. Pappas hopes to help turn the team’s fortunes around after a trying 2013 that had more valleys than peaks; still, Graham impressed on several occasions including at Long Beach (second), Iowa (fifth), and Baltimore (fastest car on track until late contact with Tony Kanaan).

The Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team has not yet announced its commercial partnerships or second driver for its IndyCar program this year. Rahal and teammate James Jakes ended the 2013 IndyCar season in 18th and 19th in the points standings. Rahal is also testing for BMW Team RLL this weekend at the Roar Before the Rolex 24, but is not yet confirmed for the race in the team’s GTLM class BMW Z4 GTLM.

Meanwhile JR Hildebrand turned 26 on Friday. Hildebrand endured a nightmarish 2013 that saw his contract at Panther Racing terminated after the Indianapolis 500, his car broken into with items stolen, and then needing to ward off an attempted robbery. On-track, he resurfaced with Bryan Herta’s Barracuda Racing outfit at Sonoma and Fontana, and nearly won the last race of the year.

A talented driver who seems to have been forgotten in the silly season discussions, it would be great to see Hildebrand earn another IndyCar opportunity with a different team in 2014.

Al Unser Jr. to race Pikes Peak Hill Climb for first time in 29 years

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Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr. is coming out of retirement to race again.

Unser Jr., who turns 56 on April 19, will compete in the 96th Broadmoor Pikes Peak International Hill Climb on June 24. It will be the first time Unser has raced at Pikes Peak in 29 years, since the 1989 event.

Unser won the Hill Climb and was named “King of the Mountain” in the 1983 event.

Unser said in 2007 that he was retiring from racing and had no plans to race in the future. However, he has taken part since then in some selected vintage racing events.

Speaking of vintage cars, Unser is slated to drive a 1936 Chevrolet Sedan in this year’s Hill Climb, according to race organizers.

He’ll compete with a number of luminaries including eight-time Hill Climb winner Paul Dallenbach; Layne Schranz, who will be competing in his 25th “Race to the Clouds”; 23-time champion Clint Vahsholtz; 25-time Hill Climb competitor David Schmidt II and three-time Climb winner Spencer Steele.

Unser recently returned to IndyCar racing as a consultant with Harding Racing, which is beginning its first full season in the series with Gabby Chaves behind the wheel.