Hildebrand to make IndyCar debut with Dreyer & Reinbold Dreyer & Reinbold Racing announced today that American driver, J.R. Hildebrand, will join the team in Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. Hildebrand will replace the injured Mike Conway for Mid-Ohio and, should the Briton be cleared to race in Sonoma, Hildebrand will drive a third D&R entry in Sonoma.
"We are extremely excited about putting J.R. in our car at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma," said Dreyer & Reinbold co-owner Dennis Reinbold. "He adds another dimension to our program and we are happy to have him on board for those events. We will be testing him at Sonoma next month and we are excited to get him acclimated to the car.
"J.R. was a very talented Indy Lights driver, having won the championship, and we are excited to be the team that he makes his IZOD IndyCar Series debut with.”
First off, I'm really excited to join Dreyer & Reinbold Racing for my first races in the IZOD IndyCar Series at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma. It's under unfortunate circumstances because of Mike and I wish him well, but it will be great to be racing with D&R. They've shown great pace all season and I'm going to try to push myself toward being at the front. I'm also looking forward to being teammates with Justin Wilson. I think it will be a great opportunity all around," Hildebrand commented.
DENNIS REINBOLD: We're really excited to announce today that we are going to have J.R. Hildebrand join our team for the Mid-Ohio and Infineon races. As last year's Firestone Indy Lights champion, we're excited to have him in the car and work with him.
We've been talking to him off and on for the last couple of months. Finally got to the point where we were ready to put this together go out and run.
We're also going to do some testing with J.R., so it should be a very good program. We're excited to have him join our team.
ROBBIE BUHL: With myself being a driver that came out of the Firestone Indy Lights, it's always a great opportunity to give a driver that's won that championship an opportunity in IndyCar. Glad that all came about.
If Mike Conway is far enough along in his rehab, which he is aggressively taking with his leg, he's shooting to be back in a race car for Infineon. If that is the case, we will have a car available for him, as well.
I just wanted people to know that we're not looking past that with regards to Mike. We're hopeful that he can be back for that event. I think it's still an uphill battle for him, but just wanted to make that clear.
J.R. HILDEBRAND: I'm really excited to be making my debut. I'm excited to be here with Dreyer & Reinbold. They've shown a lot of pace all year. Justin (Wilson) has had a good year. A few tough breaks. But I'm hopeful to take advantage of that myself.
For me, I just see it as being all around a really good opportunity. Being able to work with Justin I think will be great. I'm looking forward to having him as a teammate. Hopefully over the two race weekends that I'll be in the car, the test days, being able to get to know him a little bit better and get to the point that we can work together a little bit.
Obviously, it's going to be a learning experience for me in a lot of ways, too, whether it be pit stops or strategy or whatever, those are all going to be new things to me. I'm really excited for the opportunity these guys are giving me.
Q. My question has to do with how you feel the ladder system is working in IndyCar. You're a very accomplished racer. Obviously a lot of talent. How do you feel the Road to Indy is serving you and other drivers in the Firestone Indy Lights, maybe how that might improve going forward?
J.R. HILDEBRAND: I'd say for my part, the Road to Indy has served me quite well. It wasn't established, even when I was coming up the ranks, as it is now. I happen to have raced Formula Ford 2000, which is now part of the Road to Indy, Atlantics, Indy Lights, now getting a chance at IndyCar. I think it's an inherently difficult step to make from any kind of AAA junior formula series to the big leagues in some sense, as I think it is across the board in any sports.
In racing, in car racing, obviously the financial side of it is an additional hurdle to get over that becomes a much bigger hurdle to get over once you get at this level.
But I think the Road to Indy, especially as the new Road to Indy gets established, it will be quite a good proving ground for guys that want to be driving IndyCars and giving them a chance to do that.
Q. Robbie and Dennis, if you would like to address the Road to Indy, how your team has kind of opened the door a little bit here with giving J.R. this opportunity. Can you discuss a little bit about the financial challenges of breaking through that glass ceiling and how that might change in the future as team owners.
ROBBIE BUHL: You talk about an interesting challenge. Historically it's always been there for drivers working their way up through the ranks of wanting to get to IndyCars. It is a challenge just with the cost jump from Indy Lights to IndyCars.
You know, nowadays I look at an even tougher factor in there. It all comes back to trying to control costs, make it competitive for drivers and teams.
But for the drivers now, with the limited amount of testing that they can get in an IndyCar prior to their first race, really makes it a challenge. I always use the example of Juan Pablo Montoya. Before he even showed up for an IndyCar race, I think he had done something like 38 days of testing in an Indy car. Those 38 days were expensive, but there were teams that could do that.
That's not even an option. In this scenario for J.R., hey, it's a great opportunity for him to get in an IndyCar. As he says, it's with a test at both of those tracks. Hopefully we can put forth a good effort and J.R., as the reigning champion for the Firestone Indy Lights, he's the guy carrying and waving that flag. We're looking at him doing what Rafa (Matos) is doing. Rafa had a great run at Watkins Glen.
No extra pressure there, J.R., but you're carrying the flag for all those guys coming up that ladder from the Mazdas, to the 2000s, to the Lights.
Again, for me as a driver, they kind of went through that feeder system before it's gotten that current structure where it is. I'm a big supporter in trying to provide those opportunities. It's nice that this kind of fell together as it did for what we can do for J.R.
DENNIS REINBOLD: Just to add to that, I know that in talking about Randy Bernard, his interest is to try to get some of the expense out of our series, out of the IndyCar Series. Should that be accomplished, then that gap gets shrunk a little bit.
The question was originally, What does the future look like? I think if we can continue to contain some of the costs in our series, that's going to narrow that gap and make it more likely or possible for the Lights drivers to be able to make that next step.
Q. Dennis, since you talked to Mike Conway this morning, which is the issue as far as when he returns, which is the bigger issue, the back or the leg?
DENNIS REINBOLD: Definitely the leg. He's been out of the back brace for some time. Right now he gets his cast off next week, so that's the next big step. But in the meantime he's done some swimming. He's been careful to try to keep the cast dry. He's putting some weight on his foot.
He seemed very upbeat when I spoke to him. He spoke about how it's coming along and there's not much pain in the foot anymore. So he sounds pretty optimistic.
ROBBIE BUHL: To follow up on that. When we had talked to Dr. (Terry) Trammell. He definitely felt the biggest challenge was going to be that leg. But it's also the amount of pounds and pressure that needs to be applied to the brake pedal. When we go to a place like Infineon, with the elevation, the big brake zones, he said that's going to be the big challenge, not just for Mike to be walking on that leg but the amount much pressure he needs to put on.
He's a left-foot braker. The amount of load that needs to go through the brake pedal to stop these cars is huge.
Q. Right after Infineon is the last stretch of four ovals. Are you planning that he's in the car for those four?
DENNIS REINBOLD: If he comes back to Infineon, then we would finish the season out with Mike, for sure.