JR Hildebrand knew exactly what to expect when he finally got behind the wheel of an IndyCar Series car for the first time. After all, he's been training for it for the better part of a year.

The American, who will drive the #27 ARPRO car for AFS Racing/Andretti Green Racing in the Firestone Indy Lights series this season, became the first driver to participate in the new IndyCar Series bonus testing programme when he turned laps with Andretti Green Racing at Sebring International Raceway.

Under the new initiative, an Indy Lights driver can test three times, or amass up to 600 miles, with an IndyCar Series team and, for every 200 miles that Hildebrand drives, an IndyCar Series driver can log an extra 100 miles of testing. At Sebring, he worked with the #27 Formula Dream crew that usually fields reigning IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Hideki Mutoh.

''There isn't any one thing in particular that a [Lights] car does differently to an IndyCar Series car,'' the 21-year old revealed, ''As a driver, what makes a car difficult to get used to is when there is something way different.

''The IndyCar Series car was better and faster all around, but driving a Lights car is a good preparation for driving the IndyCar. I didn't feel uncomfortable, I was able to get up to speed and that shows that the series is a good proving ground for anyone who wants to move up the ladder.

''It was a learning experience for sure. I got used to a bigger car and felt how the changes make a difference. In terms of driving it, I guess the biggest thing to me, performance-wise, is the acceleration, but also the traction and the amount you can put the power down.

''I think I would have been better off to get a button on the steering wheel to press to accelerate when I was coming out of the final hairpin because the signal from my brain to my foot just wasn't fast enough. That was the most impressive part of the car.''

But more than just gaining valuable experience in an IndyCar Series car, Hildebrand was also under a degree of pressure to get up to speed as quickly as possible and provide feedback that would help his new AGR team-mates when they took to the track.

''It didn't take me too long to get up to reasonable pace,'' he reflected, ''[Luczo Dragon's Raphael] Matos was running there too, and he gets around there so quick, so we felt he was a good benchmark for me. We were able to keep up with him so, all in all, it was a good useful day for the team. I was happy to be competitive with Rafa and got a lot of data from the guys to use with Hideki and Marco [Andretti] the next day.''

Hildebrand's next experience in the car will be another bonus test, running with Danica Patrick's #7 team at Kansas Speedway in April. He expects his first oval experience in an IndyCar Series machine to be more of an eye-opener.

''Running around a road course, you're not going 30mph faster the whole lap,'' he said, ''I'm expecting [Kansas] to be a different scenario. I'm definitely looking forward to it though.

''As a Lights driver, it will be a benefit as I'm looking to move up down the road. Because the way the testing works, I get a few miles there, so hopefully it will be an advantage for me.

''Any seat time is valuable seat time, and seat time in the car that I'm hoping to move to is as valuable as you get. There's no downside to that. Being able to get on board with Andretti Green Racing is paying off in a lot of ways. They are already coming up with more stuff for me to be involved in. It's really a great opportunity.''



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