IL: Hildebrand back on top at Glen
5 July 2009
JR Hildebrand finally claimed a second Firestone Indy Lights victory of the season for the #26 ARPRO entry of AFS/Andretti Green Racing after leading the second half of the Corning 100 at Watkins Glen.
Hildebrand passed polesitter James Davison on lap 14 and held on through a final-lap restart to win round eight of the series, adding to his earlier victory from the pole at Long Beach. The win was the American's third in two seasons of Indy Lights involvement and cements his position at the head of the standings, which he now leads by 58 points over Mario Romancini.
"It doesn't get any better [than an American winning on the Fourth of July]," Hildebrand enthused, "This race could have really not been at a better time for us. I knew we had a strong car going into this race, and we were sitting there thinking 'we cannot accept defeat today'. It's America's birthday and I can't be more happy with it."
Hildebrand's title bid was aided by bad races for each of his three main challengers, with both Romancini and Wade Cunningham posting rare retirements and AFS/AGR team-mate Sebastian Saavedra being penalised for blocking in the closing stages of the race and dropping to 18th. It is just the second time in eight starts this season that Cunningham and Romancini - along with fellow retiree James Hinchcliffe - were not running at the finish. Hinchcliffe had a mechanical problem at Indianapolis, while Cunningham and Romancini both last retired with mechanical problems at Long Beach.
Their absence would not have affected Davison, who claimed the first pole position in any Indy Racing League series for Vision Racing, and then led the opening 13 laps in the #21 People*s Liberation entry, before coming home just 0.5499secs behind Hildebrand after challenging the American at the final restart. The result was a season's best for the Australian, improving on the fifth he took on the oval at Milwaukee. His previous best road course finish this season was seventh at Long Beach.
"JR was just too quick," Davison admitted, "They must have been trimmed out just a little more than us because I was just a sitting duck there. I didn't get a bad run or anything out of the first turn. That's just the way it goes. I had a good last restart and was right behind him out of turn one, but still he pulled away when I was a couple of meters behind. He just had good straight-line speed."
Brazil's Felipe Guimaraes made an immediate impact on his series debut, claiming third place in the #29 Bryan Herta Autosport car after stepping over from the A1 Grand Prix Series, where he took second place for Team Brazil at Kyalami.
"It was very good," he reflected, "I was able to overtake [Saavedra] on the last lap, so we had a good car. Our morning practice set us up very well for the race. I'm just happy, especially since it my first race with this car."
Saavedra, meanwhile, again found himself the subject of criticism, and was eventually credited with 18th place after series officials penalised him 30 seconds for blocking Charlie Kimball on the last lap. Kimball duly finished a career-best fourth - bettering the seventh he took on the streets of St Petersburg and the oval at Iowa - with Team PBIR.
"It was a really strong race, and we had a good car all weekend," the American reported, "We had some electrical problems in practice yesterday, so we sort of lacked on the development we were hoping to do, but, in qualifying, we had the best of the year so far with fifth position. It was the best result we could have asked for. You never know what's going to happen. Today was proof of that because it wasn't until the toe of the Boot on the last lap that we picked up fourth position. We ran 29-and-a-half laps in sixth and fifth and then picked it up right at the end. It's nice to give the guys a nice reward for the hard work they put in."
PBIR team-mate Richard Philippe, Herta's Daniel Herrington and Sam Schmidt Motorsport's Gustavo Yacaman filled the next three places, ahead of Pablo Donoso, who equalled his season best placing of ninth. Britain's Martin Plowman rounded out the top ten for Panther Racing, finishing ahead of Mike Potekhen and another Briton, Stefan Wilson, who both recorded season's best results in eleventh and twelfth.
Ali Jackson received $2500, Prendeville $1500 and Romancini $1000 as part of the Firestone Lucky Three program, in which a blind, post-race draw by the top three finishers determines three drivers outside of the top ten in the results to earn bonuses from Firestone. Yacaman, meanwhile, claimed the Force For Earth Hard Charger Award and a $1000 bonus.