If he had his way, J.R. Hildebrand would run the Indianapolis 500 tomorrow.
The 2011 Indy 500 Rookie of the Year is looking forward to returning to the fabled Brickyard for this year’s edition of the 500 on May 25 for three primary reasons.
First, Hildebrand has unfinished business, having crashed out on just the third lap of last year’s Greatest Spectacle in Racing, finishing last in the 33-car field.
Second, Hildebrand wants to return to the success he had in his 500 debut, when he finished second to the late Dan Wheldon in 2011.
Third, and perhaps the glue that will tie the first two things together for Hildebrand is driving in this year’s race for Ed Carpenter Racing.
“I am so excited to be coming back to Indy with Ed and his team,” Hildebrand said in an ECR media release. “Ed showed last year that his operation can be extremely fast at Indy with the pole and leading the most laps. And that was a single-car effort. I think we feel very good coming back to Indy with a two-car team.”
Hildebrand will drive the No. 21 Preferred Freezer Services Chevrolet as a teammate of owner/driver Carpenter, who earned the pole in last year’s race in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevy.
The groundwork to pair the two drivers together actually began after last year’s 500. While this year’s 500 will be their first race together, both men hope additional funding can be found to bring about additional races for Hildebrand after the 98th running of the 500 next month.
“I truly believe we have a combination to contend in this year’s Indy 500,” Carpenter said. “We are pumped up for May.”
Carpenter and Hildebrand are currently the only all-American team entered in this year’s 500.
It’s been a struggle for Hildebrand, a veteran of 41 IndyCar starts in his career, over the last year-plus. After competing in all IndyCar events in 2011 and 2012, he managed to find a ride and sponsorship for just seven of last season’s 19 races.
This year, Hildebrand has yet to take to the IndyCar circuit, meaning that the Indy 500 will be his first – but he hopes not last – race of the 2014 campaign.
Carpenter is still relishing last week’s win at Long Beach with Mike Conway behind the wheel, which has only heightened Hildebrand’s excitement to get going when practice for the 500 opens on May 11.
“Watching the ECR team in action the past two races (St. Petersburg and Long Beach) with Mike driving has been a good observation for me,” Hildebrand said. “Listening on the radio in the races as well as attending some of the engineering staff meetings has been very enlightening too. I think Ed and (general manager) Tim Broyles have put together a strong unit at ECR. I can’t wait to get started with them in a few weeks.”
Hildebrand will have veteran crew chief Dan Miller atop the pit box. Miller has one Indy 500 victory and four second-place finishes there in his career.
“This team might be small compared to the Penske, Ganassi and Andretti operations but you can see how well they compete,” Hildebrand said.
Follow me @JerryBonkowski