30 May 2011
Indy 500: 'A helpless feeling' - Hildebrand
The 23-year old Indy 500 rookie nearly scooped the biggest prize in motorsport. How does anyone pick themselves up from such a devastating last-turn crash?
"Obviously, JR, don't even know where to start," said the moderator at the post-race press conference of those dramatic last few seconds in the 2011 Indianapolis 500.
"I don't, either," replied JR Hildebrand, the rookie who very nearly pulled off the upset of the year.
All Hildebrand had needed to do was clear the slow, lapped traffic of Charlie Kimball running low in the #83 on the inside line and then he would have been through turn 4 and taking the chequered flag. Instead, he found himself hurtling into the wall.
"Well, I knew we were running a little tight on fuel coming to the end, and I had spotters in my ears saying, 'Guys are coming, and they're coming hard because we were having to conserve a little bit of fuel,' and the tyres are at the end of their stint," he explained to a subdued media audience. "I was just hanging on to get the thing around.
"I made a last minute judgement call on the #83 car. He was out of the pits, and I thought, 'You know what, I don't think I want slow down for him around the wrong part of the track. I would have to slow down a lot to stay behind him, then pull out a lot to pass on the straightaway so I thought, 'Well, I've been able to make this move around the outside before,' and so I went to the high side and just got caught up in the marbles, and that was it.
"Is it a move that I would do again? No. I think the only reason I did it in the first place was that it had worked at different stages earlier in the race. But in hindsight, I think with the tires being as used as they were at that stage, that last run after the caution being for so long - it's obviously a learning experience for me, that the marble buildup is quite severe."
Did he have time to think about the accident as it happened? What was going through his mind as he realised that the marbles had taken control of his #4 Nation Guard Panther Racing car?
"Is this over the public PA?" Hildebrand asked with a rueful smile. "There were a few choice words going through my head at that moment, really fast and frequently until I hit the wall. They were still going through my head there, I guess.
"It's a helpless feeling driving the race car when you get in a situation like that. It can happen on road courses, it can happen at other places. It's most extreme at a place like this where it truly does turn into a one-groove track towards the end of the-race. That was certainly my mistake to have judged it otherwise."
It had occurred to him that possibly the momentum of his wrecked car might even then just about pull it off and clinch the race.
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