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Firestone Indy Lights: Homestead-Miami 100

Open Wheel Racing Topics:  Homestead-Miami 100

Firestone Indy Lights: Homestead-Miami 100

J.R. Hildebrand
October 9, 2009


THE MODERATOR: We're now joined by the second place finisher today, J.R. Hildebrand. Talk about your day out there.
J. R. HILDEBRAND: Even in qualifying we struggled a little bit qualifying here in the past, but we spent a lot of time in the practice sessions working on our race car, and that obviously paid off. I didn't really think that we had the speed to run up front for that long.
I think Mario was sort of biding his time back there. I could tell that he was looking pretty good through the race. I was sort of waiting for the pass, and he tried a couple of times and almost made it happen, but I was trying to hold him off.
Those restarts there at the end of the race, with being up at the front you've got a lot of clean air, so when you get on the restart, the tires cool off, and the first couple laps after the restarts I found myself jamming in to change all the roll adjusters and whatever, all this stuff in the car, weight jackers, roll adjusters around. And then a couple laps later the thing was kind of settling in, and I didn't quite get it back in time to hold Mario off at the end there.
Congratulations to those guys. It's a great way to end the season for the team.

Q. Obviously you had clinched the championship back in Chicago. What's your mentality racing in a race like this where you're not really racing for points or not really racing for much?
J. R. HILDEBRAND: Well, it changes things a little bit, but we're still out here to win races, so that was sort of my mentality, our mentality certainly coming into the weekend. We haven't won on oval at all this year. We've finished second three times now, which is kind of....
So we came in trying to win and keeping in mind that Sebastian was kind of in the thick of the points battle there, and that strategy changed a little bit when he ended up qualifying at the back. We were thinking that we would end up running around each other and that we could work together up at the front. But it sort of ended up being just every man for himself a little bit there toward the end of the race. We were just trying to get what we could from him.

Q. I gather that you felt like Mario was holding something in reserve. You don't think he ever could have gotten past you entirely, do you?
J. R. HILDEBRAND: I don't know. When I was following James Davison around there through the middle of the race, I didn't really think I was going to be able to get around him and was able to make a pick. It's hard to say.
I was definitely fighting the car out in clean air a little bit, and my sort of gut feeling was that he wasn't having to work quite as hard. Whether it was going to be the last lap at the line or -- I was having more trouble through 3 and 4 than through 1 and 2, so I knew that would kind of set him up for getting a good run down the front straight. Before you know it, last lap, and he does a good job.
It was a good run for us. I think that those guys have had some tough runs this year, too. So I'm glad we could all end up at the front.

Q. During your career, you've had some success. How does this rate amongst your accomplishments?
J. R. HILDEBRAND: I would say right at the top of the list. Firestone Indy Lights championship is obviously a widely-known series; it's the best steppingstone to the IndyCar Series, which is where I'd like to find myself down the road. To be able to win the championship at this level is I think the best thing that a driver can do to be able to move up and that's all of all of our ultimate goals. It means a lot to be here as the 2009 champion.

Q. What is the process for the next month or next two months looking ahead?
J. R. HILDEBRAND: I mean, there's really no rhyme or reason to how things work out for guys every year. I think that's a widely-known fact about racing, that it's predictably unpredictable.
But I've had a lot of good conversations with team owners, and I think there's definitely the opportunity for some seats to open up, some teams to add seats maybe for next year if things go well and if things work out the right way.
Really at this point I'm just trying to put myself in a position that I'll be able to take advantage of that. So it's just making sure that I've had some face time in front of the right people for them to know that this is what I want to do and that I'm prepared to take every step necessary to be there.
I think this year we really put the rubber to the road. I look back on the season, and I can't think of a single race that we finished more than a couple of spots back from where we could have possibly finished given the circumstances. That's obviously why things have worked out so well for us here. That coupled with the fact that there's definitely going to be a little bit of musical chairs going on at the next level, then hopefully I'll be able to take advantage of it.

Q. (Inaudible) announced he got named to the Sarah Fisher ride, and the fact that Alan Floyd now has the possibility of a deal with Newman/Haas/Lanigan, you've got to feel like now maybe there is a connection between the Indy Lights series and getting an IndyCar ride.
J. R. HILDEBRAND: Yeah, I think that's been great just the last couple months, a lot of things have come together for the Lights guys, which certainly for me that's a beacon at the end of the tunnel. I think that that shows that some of the team owners are starting to see the Lights drivers as competent guys that can get in the car.
Alan Floyd and Rafa Matos did a particularly good job of showing that today in qualifying. They were both well in the Top 10 and had great runs. I'm certainly hoping that that will sort of rub off on the reputation that the Lights drivers have with those guys moving on, and hopefully I can feed off of that a little bit going into next year.
THE MODERATOR: Congratulations on the championship. Thank you for joining us here.

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