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Hildebrand samples IndyCar Series car
J.R. Hildebrand
J.R. Hildebrand knew exactly what to expect when he got behind the wheel of an IndyCar Series car for the first time. He's been training for it for the better part of a year.

"There isn't any one thing in particular that a (Firestone Indy Lights) car does differently than an IndyCar Series car," the 21-year-old Firestone Indy Lights driver from Sausalito, Calif., said. "As a driver, what makes a car difficult to get used to is when there is something way different, and the IndyCar Series car was better and faster all around. Driving a Firestone Indy Lights car is a good preparation for driving the Indy car. I didn't feel uncomfortable. I was able to get up to speed, and that shows that the series is a good proving ground for anyone who wants to move up the ladder."

Hildebrand, who will drive the No. 27 ARPRO car for AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing in Firestone Indy Lights this season, became the first driver to participate in the new IndyCar Series bonus testing program, turning laps with Andretti Green Racing at Sebring International Raceway earlier this month.

Under the new program, a Firestone Indy Lights driver can test three times or up to 600 miles with an IndyCar Series team. For every 200 miles that Hildebrand drives, an IndyCar Series driver can log an extra 100 miles of testing. At Sebring, Hildebrand worked with the No. 27 Formula Dream team that usually fields reigning IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Hideki Mutoh.

"It was a learning experience for sure. I got used to a bigger car and felt how the changes make a difference," Hildebrand said. "In terms of driving it, I guess the biggest thing to me, performance-wise, is the acceleration but also traction and the amount you can put the power down.

"I think I would have been better off to get a button on the steering wheel to press to accelerate when I was coming out of the final hairpin because the signal from my brain to my foot just wasn't fast enough. That was the most impressive part of the car."

But more than just gaining valuable experience in an IndyCar Series car, Hildebrand had to get up to speed quickly and provide feedback that would help his teammates when they took to the track.

"It didn't take me too long to get up to reasonable pace," he said. "(Raphael) Matos was running there too, and he gets around there so quick, so we felt he was a good benchmark for me. We were able to keep up with him, so all in all, it was a good useful day for the team. I was happy to be competitive with Rafa and got a lot of data from the guys to use with Hideki and Marco (Andretti) the next day."

Hildebrand's next experience in the car will be another bonus test with Danica Patrick's No. 7 team at Kansas Speedway in April. He expects his first oval experience in an IndyCar Series machine to be an eye-opener.

"Running around a road course, you're not going 30 mph faster the whole lap," he said. "I'm expecting (the Kansas test) to be a different scenario. I'm definitely looking forward to it. As an (Firestone) Indy Lights driver, it will be a benefit as I'm looking to move up down the road. Because the way the testing works, I get a few miles there, so hopefully it will be an advantage for me."

And was also why he was so keen to align himself with one of the powerhouse teams in the IndyCar Series.

"Any seat time is valuable seat time, and seat time in the car that I'm hoping to move to is as valuable as you get. There's no downside to that." Hildebrand said. "Being able to get on board with Andretti Green Racing is paying off in a lot of ways. They are already coming up with more stuff for me to be involved in. It's really a great opportunity to be involved with."

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