J.R. Hildebrand Aims for Next Level

March 19, 2010

J.R. Hildebrand Aims for Next Level

March 19, 2010

J.R. Hildebrand, co-driving with Andy Wallace (pictured) and Tom Sutherland, pilot Genoa Racing's LMPC entry. Photo credit: Rick Dole

Winning is objective number one for any racing driver. However, for American Le Mans Series rookie J.R. Hildebrand, simply getting to this weekend’s 12 Hours of Sebring was a victory in itself.

Hildebrand tested for the Genoa Racing team at the winter test session in February, but only found he would be racing here this past Monday.

“We had been talking about doing this since the test day,” he said. “It was always kind of on and off, on and off. Things started coming together on Monday and I booked my own flight. It’s definitely last minute, but I’m happy to be out there.”

This weekend, Hildebrand competes in the new Le Mans Prototype Challenge class (LMPC) for Genoa, a longtime open-wheel team owned by Angelo Ferro and Thomas Knapp. Hildebrand’s co-drivers include two time Sebring winner Andy Wallace and Tom Sutherland.

Hildebrand has compiled an impressive resume in open-wheel developmental classes. His racing accolades include winning the Team USA Scholarship for young American drivers, the Indy Lights and Formula 2000 championships. Additionally, he has also been accepted to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology with a two-year deferral to continue to pursue his racing career.

That said, this race is his first ALMS start, and first in a prototype. He describes his adaptation to these kinds of cars as a little bit different, mainly in terms of weight distribution.

“It’s a heavier car, and the power delivery is a lot different since it has sort of a street car motor,” he said. “There’s a lot of torque, but the bottom end torque is not as much as the top end. We have a really good tire on the Michelins. It’s harder than a lot of compounds than what LMP1 and 2 are running out here.”

He’s getting an education in these cars, the Oreca FLM09 powered by a 430 horsepower Chevrolet LS3 V8 engines and equipped with six speed-paddle shifting Xtrac gearboxes. He’s also learning from Wallace, long considered one of the top prototype drivers in the era.

“I spent a lot of the test day picking Andy’s brain and working my way up to speed,” Hildebrand said. “It’s a real treat for me, and he’s such a cool guy. It’s so great having him to team up with.”

Wallace echoed the sentiments of his co-drivers.

“It’s just as much an honor for me to be driving with them,” he said.

The honor they all seek is the first ever LMPC class victory in ALMS competition come the end of 12 hours on Saturday.

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