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Karam, Hildebrand keen to impress with Dreyer and Reinbold Indy 500 effort

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If you’re looking for a darkhorse for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 Presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, Dreyer and Reinbold Racing just might be the pick for you.

Typically one of the best one-off entries, the DRR squad has brought fast cars each year since 2014, their first of the recent string of one-off entries.

Sage Karam finished ninth that year, coming from 31st to do so. The following year, Townsend Bell finished 14th, but Karam’s return to the team in 2016 produced an effort that went from 23rd on the grid to run inside the Top 6 before the halfway point. However, a crash on Lap 93 put paid to an effort that may have contended for a win.

And last year, again with Karam piloting their No. 24 machine, they were quick in practice, but a battery failure on Lap 125 ended the day prematurely.

Karam is back in the No. 24 Chevrolet, with backing from WIX Filters, in 2017, but this time not as a “lone wolf.” He will have a teammate for the first time since his 2015 effort with Chip Ganassi Racing, as JR Hildebrand joins the team in the No. 66 Salesforce Chevrolet.

Both Karam and Hildebrand will be highly motivated after recent pitfalls in their driving careers. Karam’s Verizon IndyCar Series career has been start/stop since he won the 2013 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires championship.

He ran only one race in 2014, 12 in 2015, and one apiece in 2016 and 2017. And his exploits in the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship, where he competed last year in a full-season effort with 3GT Racing, did not continue into 2018, meaning the Indy 500 is his only scheduled race at this point.

Karam looked strong on Day 1 of practice, coming at seventh on the speed charts.

“Car wasn’t too bad. It has a really good balance when I ran by myself. So, we started with that and then tried to trim out and gain more speed by myself. Once I felt comfortable there, I ran with traffic,” he explained. “This was the first time I ran in traffic with the new car and it’s interesting. It looks like everyone is dealing with the same issue, which is the lack of front grip. These new cars, when you don’t have clean air, you lose a lot of front grip. That’s the battle for everyone right now is to find front grip. Overall, first day back and P6. We’re in the ballpark. Speeds or times don’t mean anything yet, but it’s good to see us high on the pylon, it is a good feeling. But, it’s early so hopefully, we keep it up and we’ll see what happens.”

Hildebrand, too, is not set to run any more races beyond the Indy 500. The 30-year-old from California departed Ed Carpenter Racing after a disappointing 2017 season saw him finish 15th in the standings, despite scoring ECR’s only podium finishes (third at ISM Raceway, and second at Iowa Speedway).

JR Hildebrand. Photo: IndyCar

Like Karam, Hildebrand will be motivated to prove he is worthy of another full-time effort.

Hildebrand was 26th overall, but had the third fastest non-tow lap.

“I felt good today with the car. We got up to speed quickly,” Hildebrand of the Day 1 effort. “There are a lot of familiar faces for me here at Dreyer and Reinbold. I made my Verizon IndyCar Series debut with DRR back in 2010. We have a lot of the same guys I have worked with the last few years, too, at ECR (Ed Carpenter Racing). I felt good with how the car rolled out of the gates and it went from there.”

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Don’t know the Rolex 24? You should. Here’s why.

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Hello, America. It’s time to go racing again.

Yes, Supercross is now three weeks into its season, and the Chili Bowl Nationals is now effectively the Christopher Bell Invitational after the young NASCAR star won his 3rd consecutive Golden Driller last weekend.

But the Rolex 24 at Daytona International Speedway is the first marquee event on the American racing calendar – an event that just happens to have international prestige.

It’s also the start of Daytona Speedweeks, which culminates with NASCAR’s Daytona 500 on Feb. 17. But this is no mere opening act just warming up the crowd for the headliner.

In case you’re new to this event, here are a few reasons why it stands out:

Twice around the clock: Are you the kind of person that appreciates a challenge? Well, challenges don’t get much bigger in motorsports than a 24-hour endurance race where drivers, crews, machines, and strategies must work together flawlessly. For those behind the wheel in the Rolex 24, the obstacles are numerous: Punishing G-forces, extreme mental focus, lack of sleep, and staying on top of hydration and nutrition.

Star power: Speaking of those behind the wheel, the Rolex 24 traditionally draws top drivers from other disciplines such as IndyCar, Formula 1 and NASCAR to join sports car regulars from North America and around the world. As a result, the winners’ list is a Who’s Who of Motorsports.

This year’s field includes a clutch of NTT IndyCar Series drivers, highlighted by 5-time series champion and past Rolex 24 winner Scott Dixon. But pre-race buzz has centered on two particular interlopers: Alex Zanardi, the former CART champion making his first North American start since losing his legs in a 2001 crash, and Fernando Alonso, the two-time F1 champion looking to add another endurance triumph alongside his win with Toyota in last year’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Cool cars: If you’re a gearhead, the Rolex 24 is a 200-mile-per-hour candy store. Across the four separate classes of competition, 13 of the world’s premier car manufacturers are represented.

The majority of those manufacturers are found in the Grand Touring classes that feature vehicles based on road-going production models. Chevy and Ford’s eternal rivalry rages on in the factory-backed GT Le Mans, but the class also boasts efforts from BMW, Porsche, and Ferrari. It’s even more diverse in the pro-am GT Daytona, where Porsche is joined by Audi, Lamborghini, Lexus and Mercedes.

As for the exotic, purpose-built Daytona Prototypes, they are powered by engines from Cadillac, Acura, Mazda and Nissan.

Nifty fifty: This year’s Rolex 24 begins the 50th anniversary season for IMSA, the sanctioning body for North American sports car racing. A select group of teams will mark the occasion at the Rolex 24 by running historic IMSA paint schemes on their machines. You may not be familiar with these looks, but it’s worth discovering the history behind them.

Here’s an example. The Starworks Motorsports team (GT Daytona) will carry a scheme based on Audi of America’s 90 Quattro from the 1989 IMSA GTO season. Boasting sports car legends Hurley Haywood and Hans-Joachim Stuck in the driver lineup, the 90 Quattro captured 7 GTO wins that season.

Audi’s performance led one competitor to create a “no passing” sticker with Stuck’s face on it. Stuck’s response: A doll fixed to his car’s rear window that dropped its pants to moon anyone Stuck put behind him.

Status symbol: Last but not least, the Rolex 24 has a unique prize – a trophy you can wear.

Winners get a standard cup, but what they’re really after are the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona watches, which include a special engraving to commemorate their victory. A standard version of this watch retails for tens of thousands of dollars, but you can’t put a price on the ones awarded at the Rolex 24.

This year’s grand marshal, 5-time Rolex 24 winner Scott Pruett, sums it up as “the ultimate reward.”

“To be presented a watch engraved with the word ‘Winner’ after 24 hours of intense racing is a moment that lives with you forever,” he added. “Your Rolex is a constant reminder of the perseverance and hard work that goes into succeeding at the highest level.”