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.

Texas starting lineup: Felix Rosenqvist back on pole; Scott Dixon qualifies second

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FORT WORTH, Texas — For the second consecutive year, Felix Rosenqvist will lead the NTT IndyCar Series starting lineup to the green flag at Texas Motor Speedway.

The Arrow McLaren driver is hoping the third time will be the charm at the 1.5-mile oval, where he has run extremely well but has only a career-best 12th in five starts.

“We’ve always been good here, but this is a whole different confidence level compared to last year,” Rosenqvist told NBC Sports’ Marty Snider. “Let’s try to wrap it up (Sunday).”

In 2020, Rosenqvist was competing for a podium when he crashed with 10 laps remaining at Texas.

QUALIFYING RESULTS: Click here for speeds from Saturday’s time trials

INDYCAR AT TEXASSchedule, start times, how to watch on NBC, Peacock

Last year, he started first on an oval for the first time in his career but finished 21st because of a broken halfshaft.

“It’s definitely one of my favorite tracks, and naturally, I’ve always been OK here,” Rosenqvist said. “It was the first oval that made sense to me. Every year I’m building on that. But looking at the results, they don’t represent the speed I normally have.

“I don’t want to jinx anything, but I hope tomorrow is going to go a bit better and some luck our way would be nice. It’s been feeling super good. Arrow McLaren has been mega every session, so just keep it rolling.”

Arrow McLaren qualified all three of its Chevrolets in the top five, building on a second for Pato O’Ward and fourth for Alexander Rossi in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

The March 5 season opener was a disappointing start for Rosenqvist who was squeezed into the wall by Scott Dixon on the first lap.

Dixon, a five-time winner at Texas, will start second Sunday, followed by Rossi and Josef Newgarden. O’Ward will start fifth alongside Takuma Sato, who will start on the outside of the third row in his Chip Ganassi Racing debut.

During nearly four hours of practice and qualifying (including a special high-line session), Saturday’s lone incident involved Conor Daly.

The Ed Carpenter Racing driver spun three times but stayed off the wall and in the frontstretch grass. Aside from a front wing change and new tires, there was no damage to his No. 20 Dallara-Chevrolet during the incident midway through the 30-minute session in which drivers were limited to the high line.

“I hadn’t really had a moment before, but it snapped really aggressively,” Daly told NBC Sports after final practice. “Not ideal, but I do know my way around correcting a spin it seems like. I drove NASCAR last weekend and that seemed to help a little bit. I drove in the dirt a lot in USAC Midgets and seemed to be able to save something but not ideal or what we wanted to have happen.”

Daly will start 25th of 28 cars alongside teammate Rinus VeeKay in Row 13. Carpenter qualified 18th.

“Our three of our cars were clearly looking for something. Mechanical grip is for sure what we need. Qualifying we actually expected to be a lot better, but we found an issue there. We’ll see what happens. This race can change a lot. I’m confident in the team to hopefully figure some things out for tomorrow.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Sunday’s PPG 375 at Texas Motor Speedway (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


ROW 1

1. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Dallara-Chevy, 220.264 mph
2. (9) Scott Dixon, Dallara-Honda, 219.972

ROW 2

3. (7) Alexander Rossi, Dallara-Chevy, 219.960
4. (2) Josef Newgarden, Dallara-Chevy, 219.801

ROW 3

5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Dallara-Chevy, 219.619
6. (11) Takuma Sato, Dallara-Honda, 219.508

ROW 4

7. (10) Alex Palou, Dallara-Honda, 219.480
8. (12) Will Power, Dallara-Chevy, 219.355

ROW 5

9. (18) David Malukas, Dallara-Honda, 219.256
10. (26) Colton Herta, Dallara-Honda, 219.184

ROW 6

11. (28) Romain Grosjean, Dallara-Honda, 219.165
12. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Dallara-Honda, 219.146

ROW 7 

13. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Dallara-Chevy, 219.100
14. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Dallara-Chevy, 218.892

ROW 8

15. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Dallara-Chevy, 218.765
16. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Dallara-Honda, 218.698

ROW 9

17. (77) Callum Ilott, Dallara-Chevy, 218.427
18. (33) Ed Carpenter, Dallara-Chevy, 218.375

ROW 10

19. (78) Agustin Canapino, Dallara-Chevy, 218.367
20. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Dallara-Honda, 218.227

ROW 11

21. (06) Helio Castroneves, Dallara-Honda, 218.196
22. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Dallara-Honda, 218.103

ROW 12

23. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Dallara-Honda, 217.676
24. (15) Graham Rahal, Dallara-Honda, 217.611

ROW 13

25. (20) Conor Daly, Dallara-Chevy, 217.457
26. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Dallara-Chevy, 216.880

ROW 14

27. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Dallara-Honda, 216.210
28. (30) Jack Harvey, Dallara-Honda, 216.103