JR Hildebrand very nearly secured his debut win in the Verizon IndyCar Series at the Iowa Corn Indy 300.
The Ed Carpenter Racing driver ran in the top five all race long, and clever pit strategy saw him emerge from the final pit stops with a chance at victory. His No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet team pitted him a little early, allowing him a chance to run for several laps on fresh tires. That move saw him jump ahead of the other leaders after they pitted.
Although he technically wasn’t the leader at that point, with Marco Andretti running long in hopes of catching a caution, Hildebrand was the de facto leader ahead of Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves. However, Hildebrand got balked behind Andretti when he made a move for the lead, which allowed Castroneves to get a run and move passed in the final laps.
Although Hildebrand tried to close back in, he couldn’t quite move through traffic as well as Castroneves and had to settle for second, just under four seconds behind at the checkered flag.
However, despite missing out on victory, Hildebrand felt very positive about his run.
“It feels good. Under slightly different circumstances we could have won,” the 29-year-old told NBCSN’s Anders Krohn afterward. “Great call to pit early and try to hustle back to the lead. If we’d been on equal tires I think we could have been there. I’m so excited to be back on the podium and (the team) deserved it after the weekend we had. Hopefully this sets up for the stretch run.”
The second-place finish is Hildebrand’s second podium of the year (he finished third at the Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix) and ties his career-best finish (second place, 2011 Indianapolis 500).
The bright yellow No. 85 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson, nicknamed the “JDC Banana Boat,” will morph into the latest incarnation of the bright red “Red Dragon” for 2018.
The now GAINSCO Auto Insurance-backed No. 99 JDC-Miller Motorsports Oreca 07 Gibson will run the full 2018 IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season, and the new livery will be revealed at the Roar before the Rolex 24.
GAINSCO revealed last month it wouldn’t run its own team, having partnered with Bob Stallings Racing for more than a decade with great success in GRAND-AM Rolex Series competition. But it was still going to partner with a team and received multiple proposals from other teams. The initial deal with JDC-Miller Motorsports is one year for 2018 with an option for 2019, but both parties envision this growing into a multi-year deal.
The last few years the team has run only on-and-off, with a one-off appearance in the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona as Alex Gurney scored pole, but a devastating accident for Memo Gidley having left him seriously injured. Gidley has made significant strides in his recovery.
Since that point, GAINSCO/BSR moved into Pirelli World Challenge, running first a Hyundai Genesis, then a McLaren 650S GT3, and then a Porsche 911 GT3 R with Gurney’s longtime co-driver Jon Fogarty. The same level of success was hard to find and while the team scored several podium finishes, wins eluded them over two years.
Alas, this provides John Church’s quality operation a major supporter both from visibility and agent standpoints, as GAINSCO is one of the biggest at-track activators in the sport. Primary drivers Stephen Simpson and Misha Goikhberg continue for the full season with Chris Miller the third driver for Tequila Patron North American Endurance Cup rounds.
A fourth driver will be named later (likely within the next week to 10 days), but won’t be Jon Fogarty, as Bob Stallings offered him the opportunity but Fogarty declined owing to other business commitments.
“We offered Jon Fogarty the opportunity, took a couple days (to think), he couldn’t feature anyone else driving but him… he has successful business ventures and that takes priority at this time,” Stallings said.
Stallings, Executive Chairman of GAINSCO, as well as the founder of the GAINSCO/Bob Stallings Race team, recently decided not to run his own race team, but is committed to continuing the legacy of the Red Dragon by partnering with an organization capable of a long-term winning program.
“We had many opportunities to continue our quest for championships and JDC-Miller MotorSports was an easy pick,” said Stallings of the Minnesota-based team. “John Church and John Miller have established themselves as a team to be reckoned with, even against the formidable competition in IMSA.”
“We are very honored to gain the support of GAINSCO Auto Insurance and to carry on the livery of the No. 99 Red Dragon,” Church added. “It was immediately evident that the GAINSCO folks are as committed as we are. This is a tremendous opportunity for JDC-Miller MotorSports and we look forward to the season ahead.”
Andy Jordan, Sr. Vice President of Marketing and Business Development led the search for the GAINSCO’s 2018 racing partnership.
“We were amazed and flattered by the amount of interest we received from teams who felt their racing programs would be elevated by an opportunity to partner with us and run the famous “Red Dragon” livery. There were several important considerations for GAINSCO; the team had to compete at the highest level, and it had to feel like the kind of family we could be a part of and believe in.
“JDC-Miller Motorsports was the team we kept coming back to. They race prototypes, they are great people, they are committed to win and the parallels between JDC-Miller Motorsports today and GAINCSO/Bob Stallings Racing in 2006/2007 were abundant. I couldn’t be prouder and more excited to join John and his team for the 2018 season and hopefully beyond.”
JDC-Miller is adding a second car this season, with Simon Trummer its first confirmed driver and Robert Alon having tested with the team at Daytona earlier this month. This car will maintain the “banana boat” livery and will announce the rest of its program later.
Church said there “hasn’t been a discussion” in terms of adding Bob Stallings Racing personnel to JDC-Miller’s lineup as it sits, but it could be integrated.