American rookie JR Hildebrand has revealed that he was happy with the progress he made during a two-day opportunity to test with the Force India F1 team at the Circuit de Jerez, but admitted that he was still in shock at even being offered the chance to run.
The 21-year old Californian, who won this year's Firestone Indy Lights title, recorded a best lap of 1min 19.873secs to rank a solid tenth fastest among the 16 rookies on show on the third and final day of testing in Spain, having gone fifth fastest among nine drivers on the morning of day one.
Hildebrand shared the team's lone Mercedes-powered VJM02 with DTM ace Paul di Resta, being entrusted with the morning session on the opening day, and racked up a decent amount of track time before having to hand over to the Scot. The 2005 Team USA Scholarship winner completed 49 laps on his opening run in an F1 car, topping the timesheets several times, and setting the third fastest time, by the time he climbed out shortly after midday. His best lap of 1min 20.537secs remained good enough for fifth spot among his peers and set the American up well for the final day.
"The track was clearly improving throughout the morning so, based on the programme we were running, and in terms of relative pace, we were doing pretty well," he said, "After a brief red flag at the beginning of the session, we started into our planned testing programme and ran pretty basic settings on the car to help give me a feel for the various adjustments that it has, as well as some different tyre compounds.
"My first impressions of the car were that it's just incredibly quick and capable, and it's definitely different to what I'm used to in its general attitude through the corner as well, so that took a bit of getting used to.
"I felt I was getting there and was starting to get the most out of the car, particularly toward the end of the morning. I think we still had some free time in the car, but I lost my best lap by using a bit too much of the road and, on my last run, I just flat-spotted the tyres straight out of the pits, which made a drastic difference in how good the car was - I really couldn't get the ultimate lap time from it.
"It was a little bit frustrating from the standpoint of losing the last two runs, but we were fifth quickest when my day was effectively done so I was pretty happy with my first outing."
di Resta ended the day second overall as the track improved, running just two-tenths slower than new F2 champion Andy Soucek, who posted the day's best time after a full day's running with the Williams team.
"I think I could have probably done a better job of putting a few more full laps together, but I was definitely pleased to see that it looked like much of the time gained by the other guys through the day was due to the track improving," Hildebrand reflected, "The roles are reversed for us tomorrow so, if nothing else, I certainly expect that, by the time I get in the car, the grip will be quite a bit higher than when I drove it today and I'll really see what the car can do!"