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Hildebrand takes Firestone Indy Lights points lead
J.R. Hildebrand
J.R. Hildebrand knew he was getting into a good situation when he was reunited with Nicolas and Dominic Cape at RLR/Andersen Racing.
The Cape brothers helped the young Californian win the Cooper Tires Formula Ford 2000 title in 2006, but none of them expected Hildebrand to be a winner in just his second oval race.
Hildebrand scored his first Firestone Indy Lights win in the Kansas Lottery 100 on April 27 at Kansas Speedway, and in doing so took the series points lead by three over Richard Antinucci.
"To be able to come away with a win in just my fourth race has put us in a really good spot in the championship," Hildebrand said after the race. "We've progressed and improved our finishing position with every race, and now I'm on the top step of the podium."
Hildebrand, who was fourth in points entering the race benefited from trouble encountered by series front-runners Antinucci and Raphael Matos.
Antinucci struggled with handling problems and dropped from the front of the pack to 13th, while Matos finished 19th after contact with Jeff Simmons's car forced him into the wall.
"We just really struggled with our handling at the end, and I, with my lack of experience, really made things worse for myself," Antinucci said.
Added Matos:  “It's unfortunate because we're racing for a championship out there."
Another beneficiary was Homestead winner Dillon Battistini, who overcame a fuel pressure issue in the morning warm-up to finish fourth. Battistini lies third in the championship, 19 points behind Hildebrand.
“I’m disappointed a little because we were good enough to win," Battistini said. "I just couldn’t find a way through up there, but I gave it everything I had out there. I am happy though because some of my main rivals for the championship didn’t finish that well and we’re in the thick of the points race.”
But first they must make up ground on Hildebrand, who is the only driver to finish in the top 10 in each of the four races. He said he hopes to continue the trend of the Kansas winner also taking the series championship.
"I didn't think our first win would come on an oval, but we'll take it and keep going," he said. "This is huge momentum for the rest of the season, especially with Indianapolis coming up."
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