Excited to join Ed Carpenter Racing, J.R. Hildebrand has unfinished business at Indy 500

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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.

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Bourdais hopes last year’s crash turns into Indy 500 Cinderella story on Sunday

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Sebastien Bourdais has relived his May 20, 2017 crash during Indianapolis 500 qualifying over and over in his mind, day after day, week after week and month after month.

He would think of the worst crash of his open-wheel racing career at least once — if not several times — a day, particularly when he’d experience a slight twinge of pain.

“I think about it every day,” Bourdais told MotorSportsTalk. “Even though I’m functionally 100 percent now, it’s still very rare that during the day that there’s not a little pinch or something that reminds me of what happened.”

But this past weekend while qualifying for this year’s 500, one year later, the French driver said he was finally able to work past the mental roadblock that just would not leave his mind.

The solution was simple: complete the task he wasn’t able to do so last year, namely, qualifying for the race – and qualifying well.

Bourdais will start fifth in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing, in the middle of Row 2.

“(Last year’s crash is) still in my mind,” Bourdais said. “But I think the biggest hurdle, at least mentally, was qualifying last weekend, putting yourself back in the same set of circumstances, going back on the line there.

“It felt a little bit the same, chances of rain, some rain, delays, you get back in line, conditions change, everything gets harder because it gets hotter, but that’s the biggest hurdle to overcome. After that, it’s back to business.”

Bourdais has already won once in 2018 – the season-opening race in his adopted hometown of St. Petersburg, Florida.

It helped jump start him to a strong overall run in the first five races of the season, including a fourth-place showing two weeks ago at the INDYCAR Grand Prix of Indianapolis, coupled with entering the 500 third in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings.

Now, he wants to win the biggest race of his career. If he does so, he’ll feel as if he finally and completely has come full circle from last year’s devastating wreck that shattered his pelvis, going head-on into the Turn 2 wall at a reported 228 mph.

“Well, it’s the Holy Grail of IndyCar, it doesn’t really get any bigger than that,” Bourdais said of the 500. “It’s the biggest achievement that you can accomplish in IndyCar.

“I don’t think I’m any different than anybody else: we all want to win it pretty bad, but I’m sure after what happened after last year, it’d be a Cinderella story.”

But there’s a caveat to Bourdais writing that story: “There’s 32 other drivers that want to accomplish the same thing, and it’s a one day event. We’ll give it our best shot … you can only give your very best and see what happens on that given day.”

Bourdais has a lot going for him heading into Sunday. First off, he’ll start from the highest qualifying position he’s ever had in what will be the seventh Indy 500 of the 39-year-old’s racing career.

Second, his confidence and comfort level are higher than they’ve ever been coming into the annual classic at the 2.5-mile Brickyard oval.

Third, he’s forgiven himself – not IMS – for what happened last year. He has no ill feeling towards the racetrack, nor does he seek revenge. If he were to start thinking that way, it would serve no positive purpose.

“No. I’m not really that way,” he said when asked if he wants revenge over the racetrack. “The track didn’t beat me up, I beat myself.

“The bottom line is there were a couple of reasons why it happened, but I got more comfortable and more confident and confidence and comfort at some point just bite you at Indy.

“You just do your laps, you get into such a rhythm and the week had gone perfectly with an awesome car and there was not a doubt in my mind it was going to stick (going into Turn 2), and that’s when it happened – and I paid the price.”

So, Bourdais is simply going to go out and race, again, hoping to complete what he started last year before being so painfully derailed.

His best finish to date in the 500 has been seventh (2014). He just needs for his Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser – Sullivan Honda to finish six places higher on Sunday.

And if he does, his move to Dale Coyne Racing last year – he’s competed in 13 of 23 races with two wins, 3 podiums and one pole – would only serve to make what already has proven to be a great move into a potentially brilliant move.

Because, yes, Bourdais isn’t just thinking Indy 500 win, he’s also thinking of a potential championship this season.

“I sure hope so,” Bourdais said when asked if his team’s success will continue. “I like to say it’s (the success that the Coyne camp has had since he came there) a little bit of my baby, bringing in Craig (engineer Craig Hampson) and Olivier (race engineer Olivier Boisson) and reinforcing the existing crew.”

Bourdais is no stranger to winning championships. He won four straight combined titles in CART and the Champ Car World Series from 2004 through 2007 (he also won 28 races in that four-year span).

“Obviously, it’s one thing to get into a winning team and basically meet expectations,” Bourdais said. “It’s another thing to try and build something and change the status of the underdog and turn him into a contender week in and week out.

“We got a glimpse of that last year, and this year, we’ve been competitive every weekend so far, and that’s a great feeling. Once you’re able to be competitive on street course, road courses, short ovals and superspeedways, then you can start saying and thinking championship.”

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