Hildebrand mixes hot rods and testing in Sonoma

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JR Hildebrand’s new 1962 Cadillac Coupe Deville. Photo by Marshall Pruett.

It’s always good for JR Hildebrand to come home to Northern California. It’s even better when he rolls up in a classic, exotic hot rod.

The 25-year-old from Sausalito, Calif. kicked off his third full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series with his and the Panther Racing’s first test at Sonoma Raceway on Wednesday. However, compared to an ordinary run-of-the-mill rental car, Hildebrand showed up at the track in a newly purchased pink 1962 Cadillac Coupe Deville.

For Hildebrand, who’s occasionally been dubbed the “pink Panther” in races he has driven with an alternate pink and camouflage livery on his No. 4 National Guard car, it’s nothing new. He’s an avid fan of classic cars.

“I’ve always had a thing for early model year Cadillacs, but the 1962 Coupe DeVille has always been the one for me,” Hildebrand said. “It’s 50-plus years old and it’s hard to find one that’s not either a piece of (crap) or completely restored. The guy I bought it from sent me a bunch of pictures and I almost made an offer without seeing it in person.”

Hildebrand’s other prominent collectable is a 1966 Chevelle SS, a present from Panther team principal John Barnes after following Hildebrand’s rookie attempt and near-win in the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

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Another view of JR’s new ride. Photo courtesy Panther Racing.

When it came to the test itself, Hildebrand spent the day turning his first laps of the year. Like fellow Chevrolet team Ed Carpenter Racing, Panther opted to skip a test last week at Sebring International Raceway.

Panther’s technical partnership with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing allows Hildebrand to benefit from the resources at their disposal including Panther DRR driver Oriol Servia. Panther has increased its engineering talent, too, with the addition of former Andretti Autosport engineer Tino Belli.

“The main positive I took from the test was how well we worked with the Dreyer & Reinbold guys,” Hildebrand said. “One of the differences for us this year is we have a lot more pieces that are going to help us put the puzzle together. Having (Technical Director) Tino (Belli) from Andretti definitely is a big help, and having a more efficient relationship with the D&R guys gives us a lot of information at our disposal.”

Hildebrand’s best finish in 2012 was fifth on two occasions, including on the Long Beach street course.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans
JEAN-FRANCOIS MONIER/AFP via Getty Images
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LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.