J.R. Hildebrand is one American going places in a hurry
by Mark Cipolloni

 January 29, 2007

Go to our forums to discuss this article

JR Hildebrand

Sebring - What motivates a kid who graduated early from High School, where he played varsity baseball and maintained over a 4.0 GPA, including honors and AP classes, to take up a career in racing, a sport full of danger, uncertainty, and a lot of broken wallets?  That's exactly what JR Hildebrand from Corte Madera, California has chosen for himself.

Well spoken, very polished and years beyond his age, 2006 saw 19-year old J.R. Hildebrand win the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 Championship in dominating style.  Winning a record setting 12 of 14 races, he also set records for most consecutive victories in a season at seven, most laps lead in a season and most poles in a season on his way to the championship.

This year he moves up to the Champ Car Atlantic Series and in pre-season testing he has shown early form that would indicate he will be a serious contender for that crown and the $2M that goes along with it.

On Saturday in Sebring the young rookie was immediately third fastest overall and on Sunday he moved to the top of the timesheets.  Pretty impressive stuff against some pretty heady company.

Transitioning over to the bigger Atlantic car proved to be no problem for JR. 

"It's been pretty easy," Hildebrand told autoracing1.com.  "A number of drivers have come out of the Cooper Formula Ford 2000 series and done well in Atlantics, like Jonathan Bomarito for example.   The cars drive somewhat the same with lots of downforce and grip, a torquey motor instead of high HP, radial tires and a similar balance.  Obviously the Cooper FF car does not have the big underbody tunnels, however, it's sort of similar how we drive it," said Hildebrand.

Renowned engineer Don Halliday has signed on to become the lead engineer for Newman Wachs Racing's (NWR) 2007 Champ Car Atlantic season.  Halliday's hiring has been one of many restructuring decisions NWR team principals Eddie Wachs and Ove Olsson have made in preparation for 2007.

Despite the help of Halliday, JR admits he still has a lot to learn and cautions against setting his and the team's expectations too high too early.

"2007 will be a real learning process for me, especially the street circuits which most of the junior formula don't race on.

"In terms of the competition level there is nothing that beats the Atlantic Series.  Yesterday, the first day of testing, we had 21 drivers within one second of each other and I ended up 3rd quick but was only 3/100ths slower than Matos who was fastest.  It just goes to show you how many good drivers we have.  I was happy to be the top rookie driver both days.

JR Hildebrand
Champ Car

"If you look at last year the guys who were quick right away last year were quick all year so we're hopeful our early form carries through as well, but with so many good drivers in the series we cannot lose our focus.

Like all the drivers in the Atlantic Series, the $2M that goes with winning the Atlantic title is a real carrot at the end of the stick.  Having $2M in his back pocket has propelled last year's Atlantic champion Simon Pagenaud into the 2007 Champ Car series and that fact isn't lost on Hildebrand who has his eyes on moving up to Champ Car within two years.

"The $2M is a huge incentive," said Hildebrand.  "But even without the $2M you would see this series be popular because the competition is so good and it's not too expensive.  The $2M is especially big for drivers who do not have a lot of money and it's a way to make it to Champ Car, which is where I plan to be within two years.  We try not to think about the money and focus on our performance, and if we do that the results will be there."

Hildebrand already has future goals he has set for himself, and to diversify is one goal the Californian has set for himself.

JR Hildebrand
Champ Car

"Dad raced vintage Trans-Am cars and the vintage cars have a special place in my heart because drivers from that era would drive all kinds of cars.  Unfortunately today with contracts that is hard to do.  My goal is to prove my worth in all forms of racing, but my short-term goal is to excel in open wheel, and like Graham Rahal and Simon Pagenaud, use success in the Atlantic series as a stepping stone up to Champ Car.  I can't count out going overseas and trying F1 someday, but as Champ Car continues to improve that is the championship I want to win within the next 5 years."

And if he does win the $2M Atlantic championship the fact isn't lost on JR that his Atlantic co-owner, Paul Newman, also owns 1/2 of Newman/Haas racing's Champ Car team.  I kidded with JR that I would love to overhear that conversation in the off-season as to which team would get the $2M that goes along with JR.  Wouldn't a seat at Newman/Haas be fantastic I asked?

"When we get to that point in the season we'll see," said Hildebrand.  "Right now it is one step at a time and maybe if Bourdais heads off to F1 and a spot opens up, who knows, but I can't focus on that yet.  Newman Wachs has given me all the tools to succeed so now we need to come through."

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

Go to our forums to discuss this article


Other Editorials

Champ Car's Minardi 2-seater is the ultimate ride

For Alex Figge and PCM it's baptism by fire

A tribute to Alfred J. Cipolloni

Champ Car owners move to silence critics

Establishing a firm foundation for Champ Car

One-on-one with Champ Car President Steve Johnson

J.R. Hildebrand is one American going places in a hurry

What's new for Champ Car for 2007 - Part 1

Champ Car positions itself for international expansion

Paul Stoddart confirms interest in Champ Car

An inside look at Champ Car TV production

Ho-Pin Tung wants to be Champ Car's first Chinese driver

Stephen King explains Justin Wilson's novel Investor's Club

One-on-one with American sensation AJ Allmendinger

Champ Car moving forward without the IRL

One-on-one with Paul Tracy

Bruce Delahorne explains CDW's sponsorship in Champ Car

One-on-one with Justin Wilson

Champ Car bosses won't be bullied

Part 2: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

Part 1: NASCAR/ISC get dirty in Phoenix, out to destroy Open Wheel

The Rahals: Like father, like son

Why and IRL/Champ Car merger will be a big boost for the sport

Headless Open Wheel Racing appears doomed

Richard Lyons looking at Champ Car for his next challenge

We salute the champions of 2005

Is Jay Howard the next Ayrton Senna?

Interview with Grand-Am President Roger Edmondson

Otaru, Japan Champ Car race moving closer to reality

Champ Car's global appeal may ride on mimicking the Team Australia concept

Champ Car's Surfers Paradise race promoter "gets it"

Champ Car cements another brick in its foundation

Custom built Champ Cars and Indy Cars

Interview with RuSPORT Team President Jeremy Dale

Conspiracy Theory: What Indy was really all about

Why the Champ Car/IRL war must end

How a Champ Car and IRL merger might work

Will the battle for Long Beach destroy its Grand Prix?

Katherine Legge has her eyes set on Champ Car

Traveling Light Media - Just what the doctor ordered

Champ Car lays out bold 3-year plan

Champ Car's 2005 driver lineup vastly improved

Hunter-Reay anxious to get racing again with new team

That sucking sound you hear is NASCAR

Feud - The story of the murder of Mickey Thompson

Yes, Blame Tony and the CART defectors too

Interview with ALMS President Scott Atherton

2005 a foundation laying year for Champ Car

Kalkhoven talks Champ Car with AutoRacing1

Kalkhoven and Forsythe buy Cosworth from Ford

Carl Russo is bullish on Champ Car

Can this be Champ Car's next-generation car

Champ Car poised for major comeback

Champ Car Race Control - the 'Hot Seat Zone'

Open Wheel Racing is in serious need of consolidation

Champ Car South of the Border, An interview with Joe Heitzler

There is an easy way for Champ Car and the IRL to unify

From airport to race track, a race within a race

The 2-seater Car is one of Champ Car's biggest assets

Why Bernie Ecclestone could, and should, buy Champ Car now

Champ Car rocks the streets of Times Square in Manhattan

Why did Fernández leave Champ Car?  Follow the money....

Next Generation Champ Car: A call for F1 tires

Coming to America?  Interview with Ralph Firman Jr.

Open Wheel Racing defeats IRL - Champ Car Series to continue

Open Wheel Racing needs a win by OWRS - Part 2

The next generation Champ Cars - Part 2

Is CART next for Villeneuve?

New deal for CART may be better than first thought

The genius of one Bernard Ecclestone

CART Champ Cars, the next generation - Part 1

Details emerging on CART race in Seoul, South Korea

CART hits a Grand Slam in Mexico City.  Now What?

Top-10 Challenges facing new CART owners

CART can still race in Europe, but will they?

For CART, time is of the essence

Making sense of CART's situation

Push-to-Pass means no more parades for CART

An interview with CART's David Clare

What did Roger Penske really mean?

CART must differentiate itself - clearly

Why turbos make for superior street and race engines

For CART, it's now or never

Chicken or the Egg?

War of the worlds

What Bernie brings to CART

CART, Driven to where?

Is it really about CART vs. IRL?

If I were Bernie

The Champ Cars and St. Pete

An informal survey of the St. Pete race attendees

Artificial Dissemination

CART, F1 coming to grips with doing business in China

Cancel the Funeral

Why CART and F1 must, and will, share a common V-10 engine

Book Review: Autocourse 2002-2003 F1 yearbook

Does CART need Michael Andretti?

2002 CART TV ratings by the numbers

Now is the time for CART to redefine its ladder system

CART gets a taste of tifosi passion in Mexico

Love affair in Mexico

Making sense out of Bernie/CART rumors

Changing of the guard?

Mom, apple pie, CART and....Formula1?

Why CART and Bernie make perfect dance partners

Miami should be a CART and ALMS kickoff party

David slays Goliath in Miami

What to make of Gurney's F1 team

Taking it to the streets, why Miami is a war zone

CART, like the Phoenix, about to rise up from the ashes

There's more than handwriting on the wall.....and here's the concrete facts

Labor Day weekend 1952...A weekend I'll never forget

Team owners show support for CART

CART still may be in cards for Villeneuve

Bryan Herta, USA's next best chance for F1

Is Paul Ricard in CART's future?

CART's real attendance numbers

Is Brands Hatch suitable for Champ Cars?

An Unappealing Appeal, George reigns in GEORGE-town

A candid conversation with Chris Pook

More than meets the eye with CART's turbo move

It's time for CART to define its own future

Key upgrades at Road America

Back-Breaking work

The rebirth of CART

The hidden costs of Indy Car racing

CART's road and street circuits are clicking with the fans

Is it sport, or a P.T. Barnum show?

IRL at Fontana - a victim of friendly fire

CART's 2003 race venues #1 in the world

Meet the Gonzalez brothers

ISC is making enemies in Miami

Copyright 1999-2014  AutoRacing1 is an independent internet online publication and is not affiliated with, sponsored by, or endorsed by the IRL., NASCAR, FIA,  Sprint, or any other series sponsor. This material may not be published, broadcast, or redistributed without permission.