By Kirby Arnold, Staff Writer
INDIANAPOLIS – JR Hildebrand has raced up Pikes Peak in a sports car and has long wanted to experience that Colorado mountain in a current-era IndyCar.
Hey, we’re all entitled to pipe dreams, right? Hildebrand, who’ll attempt to qualify this weekend for his 11th Indianapolis 500, is serious about this one, though.
Whether it happens for the June 27 hill climb remains uncertain, but when the entry list was released several weeks ago, Hildebrand’s name was listed as driving a 2021 Dallara DW12/IR18, the current chassis being used in the NTT IndyCar Series.
What’s up with that?
“That was a statement of intent as much as anything,” Hildebrand said. “But I’ve been talking to people behind the scenes about that for a couple of years.”
He drove a Porsche up the 12.42-mile course in 2018, and immediately he thought how cool it would be to take a full-bred IndyCar up the paved road of switchbacks and sheer drop-offs in an attempt to break the overall course record. Romain Dumas holds the record at 7 minutes, 57.148 seconds in an electric Volkswagen ID.R.
“Since I did the hill climb it was sort of obvious to me that there’s no reason that operationally you couldn’t take an IndyCar to Pikes Peak,” he said.
Hildebrand said the aeroscreen on the current IndyCar chassis satisfies a Pikes Peak safety requirement, and he believes it wouldn’t take much work to transition a Dallara from the race track to the mountain.
“To be totally frank, I’ve got a lot of support to go do it,” Hildebrand said. “The biggest hangup as it exists right now is that Pikes Peak is so close to Indy and everybody is running all their extra stuff here in the month of May. The first test session (at Pikes Peak) is literally a week after the 500. There’s a little bit of (uncertainty over) where exactly does the equipment come from to go do it? And at what point during the course of May do teams feel a little more secure that they can commit to do something?
“There’s still a clear possibility that it all goes down. But there’s a part of it also that’s kind of like racing luck. How many cars are in one piece coming out the other side of the 500?”
Hildebrand wouldn’t hint what IndyCar team might supply a car and engine, although he’s long been connected with Chevrolet-powered teams. The Chevy-powered IndyCar teams are Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, Arrow McLaren SP, Carlin and the team Hildebrand is currently with, A.J. Foyt Enterprises.
“The idea basically is to run the current spec car with the aero kit spec wings,” he said. “There are some easy things you can do to this car to create a lot more downforce. You think about how much downforce the car was making in 2017, without the diffuser strakes and without a bunch of stuff that would have made the car physically super hard to drive.”
So, make that Pikes Peak entry a huge “maybe?”
“I’ll put it this way: I’ve kind of got all the right people behind it to actually be able to execute,” Hildebrand said. “But, not owning my own car, that piece of it, that’s the hurdle.”