Carpenter and Hildebrand. Photo: IndyCar

JR Hildebrand proving an invaluable asset to ECR’s 2016 season

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Reserve drivers aren’t really a “thing” in the Verizon IndyCar Series like they are in Formula 1, but Ed Carpenter Racing has used one to its advantage throughout 2016.

While it’s perhaps a shame that JR Hildebrand isn’t in a full-time seat – people probably forget how good the 28-year-old Californian who now lives in Denver still is – Hildebrand’s work with Carpenter this year has easily been the most important of his three years with the team.

Hildebrand has raced at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in an extra Carpenter car each of the last three years but this year has seen him take on a much greater role, if by unfortunate circumstances.

Josef Newgarden’s crash at the now-postponed Texas Motor Speedway race on June 12 forced Hildebrand into action with INDYCAR adding more in-season test days this year. Newgarden was, only temporarily, sidelined with a broken right clavicle and right hand injury.

With Newgarden sidelined for pre-race tests at Road America and Iowa Speedway, Hildebrand has stepped into the No. 21 Direct Supply or Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet admirably to work on setup and develop a baseline for both events.

It’s worth noting that Newgarden’s car might not have been as locked in as it was for Road America – when he pressed through to drive from 20th on the grid up to eighth – without Hildebrand’s feedback and setup.

To hear Hildebrand tell it though, he knew he was really only going to be on standby figuring Newgarden would do everything in his power to make the race. That selflessness is what has made him a huge asset this year.

“I’ve showed up here knowing it was likely that he was going to be able to drive,” Hildebrand told NBC Sports after Road America.

“I mean, I figured from early in the week that if he gets to the point that he can try it, that he’s probably going to be good enough to go for the rest of the weekend. So that was sort of honestly my expectation and showed he was able to do a good job.

“I’m here in a reserve role, that’s kind of my gig with these guys. Certainly if anything happened, I’d have been ready to go. I’ll test for them at Iowa this week, just to give him a bit of a break so it’s all good.”

Newgarden has hailed Hildebrand’s work throughout this year and particularly over the last month.

“JR has been a huge asset to us. He’s like a driver to us full-time anyway,” Newgarden told NBC Sports.

“He’s been huge for me, a lot of advice, coaching, so it’s been nice having him around. He got us squared away for race weekend.”

Hildebrand, without being in the cockpit, wound up in a driver analyst role for IndyCar Radio on the IMS Radio Network during the Road America race.

That provided him a lot of extra insight into how a race evolves from a strategy standpoint that he can use to what he’s already learned and developed over his driving career.

“They have a lot of information to work with there but I think the things that are interesting for us is really understanding what the pit windows are and what the segment times are as you go through the lap,” Hildebrand explained.

“You have so much information on the timing stands. You feel like you’re flying blind a little bit up in the broadcast booth, you don’t know exactly what’s going on with anybody. It’s still cool to see and obviously I sort of know enough about what the look for, what the pit windows should be and where guys have been at to pick up on some of that stuff.

“It’s so interesting to watch and obviously there at the end with that late race caution, all kinds of stuff going on on track. You can hardly keep up with it.”

As noted, Hildebrand tested last week at Iowa to dial in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for this weekend’s race. Newgarden, who’s noted Iowa will be a tougher test for him, thanked Hildebrand for his efforts.

“We had a great test and I am super thankful to JR Hildebrand for getting us in a great spot going into the weekend,” Newgarden said in the team’s pre-race advance.

“We just need to show up and execute well. If we do, I think we have all the ingredients necessary to have a strong weekend.”

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”