Thursday, April 02, 2009

Wade Cunningham Helmet

BSS recieved a nice email today from former Firestone Indy Lights Champion Wade Cunningham. Wade uses an ARPRO multiple-impact custom seat and will be running our logo on his helmet this season.

Wade has been signed on to drive the #11 Lucas Oil/Sam Schmidt Motorsports entry for the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights season.

Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Indy Lights: J.R. Hildebrand Testing Program

INDIANAPOLIS, IND. (March 8, 2009) - J.R. Hildebrand, of Sausalito, Calif., spent the last two weeks out on the road getting valuable seat time in a variety of race cars and circumstances.

The trek started on Wednesday (February 25), with a trip across the Atlantic from Indianapolis to Johannesburg, South Africa, to again represent A1GP Team USA in the rookie sessions of the most recent round of the A1GP World Cup of Motorsports at the famed Kyalami Circuit.

After spending 18 hours on the plane (with a stop in Dakar for fuel), Hildebrand and the rest of Team USA arrived in South Africa to find out that the weekend's events had been delayed, and it was unclear if he was going to be able to drive at all! Fortunately, everything got sorted out and he and the other rookies that missed Friday's practice were given 45-minutes on Saturday morning. Hildebrand made good use of the time to relay the characteristics of the car and the track to lead driver Marco Andretti and the engineers for Team USA. After making changes based on Hildebrand's feedback, Andretti continued working with the car and was able to post the second fastest time in final practice later that day.

Hildebrand was unfortunately unable to stay for Sunday's races, due to his primary commitment to the AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing Indy Lights team. After a 10-hour flight to Paris and a sprint through the airport to make his connection to Miami, he was able to make it to the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval in time for Tuesday's Firestone Indy Lights open test. Hildebrand spent most of the day running through a planned program of setup changes and ultimately walked away with a variety of ideas to work with moving forward.

The team quickly turned the cars around and drove up to nearby Palm Beach International Raceway for a road course test just two days later. Hildebrand again spent much of his time adjusting the car and fine tuning the car’s setup before running some extremely quick times at the end of the day.

The highlight of Hildebrand’s adventure came just a few days later in Sebring, Fla., where he was treated to a test in Andretti Green Racing's IndyCar Series car. Hildebrand was due to test the car on Monday, before regular IndyCar Series drivers Hideki Mutoh and Marco Andretti took over on Tuesday. This was Hildebrand’s first time driving an IndyCar Series car, and just to make things more interesting, the team had laid out a thorough test plan to evaluate different setup options and incorporate his feedback to use the following day. Hildebrand quickly got up to speed, keeping pace all day with Raphael Matos of Luczo Dragon Racing, the only other driver on track, and was able to give useful and accurate feedback about the car and the changes.

"I didn't find that I had a hard time getting up to speed, but there were definitely a few things that took a while to really get a handle on," Hildebrand said. "The traction on power-down was incredibly good, to the point that I'm not sure a button on the steering wheel for 'full throttle' may not have been more effective in some situations! It was almost as if I physically could not put my foot to the floor fast enough! I was glad that another car was on track, and I think Rafa was a great benchmark, particularly around Sebring. We got through a lot of changes and a lot of miles, and I felt like I had learned and accomplished quite a lot by the end of the day."

On Tuesday, Hildebrand stayed at the track and was happy to see that his feedback had been good and was useful to the team. Andretti and Mutoh both went through similar changes and described similar impressions about their cars.

"Working with the IndyCar Series team both days really gave me a taste of the "big time, which I'm hoping to experience full time in the future," he noted. "It was a great experience and I'm really appreciative that AGR continues to give me such fantastic opportunities."

Following a few substantial time changes, over 40 hours on airplanes, a lot of early mornings, four race tracks and over 200 miles on the Sebring short course in just two weeks (not to mention a bout of food poisoning), the young Californian welcomed the sight of a familiar bed back in Indianapolis, Ind., on Tuesday night.

"It was a fantastic experience all around," said Hildebrand. "South Africa was a really interesting experience on a great circuit. I really enjoy being a part of the A1GP Series and Team USA, but it can be frustrating at the same time because just about the time you start to build some momentum you have to get out of the car! Back in my Indy Lights car, the Homestead test pointed out that we still have some work to do on our oval package, but I didn't run in the draft or do anything special for speed at the test and a few things stood out later on, so I'm very confident that the team and I will be right were we need to be in time for the first oval track race of the season in Kansas. We then had a great road course test at Palm Beach and got through a ton of test items while also setting very fast times, which felt great. I think we are going to be strong across the board this year right from the beginning."

The next chance for Hildebrand to jump in a race car will be the Firestone Indy Lights open test at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama on March 21st.

Hildebrand is grateful to AGR, ARPRO, JSP, Racemaker Press, Bald Spot Sports and Doug Mockett & Company for their continued support of his career.