Wow, what a finish at the Indianapolis 500. Rookie JR Hildebrand won’t soon forget it that’s for sure. Unfortunately for him and his team, Panther Racing, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Hildebrand looked to have the race in the bag only to crash into a wall in the final moments of the race. He was overtaken by Dan Wheldon and had to settle for second place. Take a look at the video, and then listen to Hildebrand candidly discuss the tough loss.
Hildebrand joined 107o The Fan in Indianapolis to talk about what’s going through his mind as he’s approaching the lap car that caused him to crash, if there’s enough time to have an ‘oh crap’ moment in a situation like that, how it looked like he might still have an opportunity to win even after he had crashed into the wall, what he’s going to take from the unfortunate loss, the reasoning behind his aggressive strategy there, the advice he’s received from various folks since the race, how he’s trying to not let the mistake get him too down, and how he feels worse for his team than he does for himself.
What’s going through his mind when he’s approaching the Audi lap car of Charlie Kimble as he’s going into that fourth turn:
“Well, sort of going half a lap back, I knew there were guys that were on different kinds of pit strategies, different keep strategies. We were trying to stretch our strategy significantly, you know, to try to make it to the end there. And I’d seen that there were a couple cards that were as the laps were ticking away that were coming out of the pits that were pitting with two or three laps to go, or whatever because they knew they were going to run out. So coming around to the last lap, I thought Charlie was one of those guys because I’d just seen some cars coming out, and I figured ‘if he’s coming out of the pits, he should be more or less up to speed by the time he gets to 10-4 and gets to the front straight. So I didn’t even really think it was going to be an issue, and then obviously coming around three and then getting into four, he was all of a sudden quite a bit slower than I was and trying to just milk it to the line. And it suddenly became sort of a split second decision for me — I had the choice of, one angle for me would be to slow down a bunch, follow him through the corner, and then try to accelerate up, go past and beat Dan to the line; and the other was to go for it and make the move to try to get around him and try to keep the momentum up. And at that point, everything was so close, I knew Dan was coming full head of steam having pitted, new tires right around Lap 220, whereas I’m struggling with the fuel conservation at that point to rni 215, 216 . Obviously that ended up biting me once I got out in the grey area there.”
If there’s enough time in a split second decision like that to have an ‘oh crap’ moment mentally:
“There definitely is enough time to have an ‘oh crap’ moment there. I’d say that’s a fairly G-rated version of what was actually going through my head. But basically I made the call to go around Charlie on the high side. It’s a move that had worked for me earlier in the race. Obviously at that stage you’re on an extremely used set of tires, more used than any set we had run previous to that. The marbles on the outside of the track had obviously been building up; it was a long green flag run there at the end. And as soon as I got on the outside, I felt the car start to push a little bit. I started to pedal it to try to get the front end to hook back up and get around the outside, but once it really got there in the grey, the front just really washed out. At that point you’re helplessly along for the ride, and that was most certainly when the expletives started going through my head. But then it very quickly becomes a situation of ‘okay, I need to get the car to the finish line.’ And so as soon as the thing kind of stringed out, I just turned it into the wall full throttle and was lucky to be able to salvage second from it.”
On how it looked like he might have been able to still win after crashing into the wall, a finish that would have gone down as one of the craziest ever:
“It certainly crossed my mind for a minute, but being the realist I guess you have to figure that they’re not going to throw the Yellow on that car that’s lapping it at 220. I kind of knew roughly how quickly Dan was catching up at that point, that it was going to be tough to make it across the line ahead of him. But I guess that’s just how those things go.”
Whether there’s been a wave of people — from colleagues to mentors to fans — that have wanted to console him and lend support since Sunday:
“I mean, a lot of people have wanted to come up and say ‘you did a good job’. For me, it’s not so much…there’s certainly some personal frustration with how the whole thing ended up and how the last lap ended up unfolding, but the heartbreak really for me is for the team and for the guard. Those guys put in an insane amount of work to get the program to where it is, and have done such a good job for the whole month to get myself and Buddy to the top of the charts pretty much every day. So that’s really where the disappointment for me goes to. Obviously not on this quite a stage, not quite at this level, but you have these kinds of experiences at various different points along the way. Last night, the drivers all kind of get together on the night afterwards, and you can just kind of see people understand kind of what you’re going through on an emotional level. But they also understand we were running a pretty darn good race before that. The best bit of advice that I’ve gotten, or the kind words I guess you can say, is this should just give you confidence that you can do this, and that you guys as a group at Panther Racing that we can be in a position to try to win races this year. And I think that’s what we’ll try to take with us moving forward.”
How he seems to be in great shape mentally about not letting this affect his confidence and approach moving forward:
Well I appreciate that very much, and it always runs across…it’s always kind of in the back of your mind that ‘what if this is…’ Like I said, there’s just a lot of ‘what ifs’ about the whole. But obviously we’re just going to take it as a positive step towards getting there down the road. It’s hard to think of it s another logical way to try to use momentum going forward. So we’re going to try to make that our plan anyway.”
Whether there was anyone who reached out to him that took him by surprise:
“I wouldn’t say that there was anyone I didn’t expect to hear from. I didn’t have the President on the line or anything like that. But it’s been good because there’s just kind of been a constant flow of positive feedback about everything that’s gone on. So that certainly makes it a little bit easier to move onto the next step.”
If he has watched the replay yet:
“Oh yeah. It’s hard not to watch it. You’ve got SportsCenter and all sorts of stuff going on, so but to be honest with you, it’s one of those situations where I watch the replay, and, yeah there are certainly things I could have done different. But to be honest with you, especially with these guys, Panther Racing has come in second here the last three years in a row, and I did not want to be the guy that was leading the race and slowed down for a lap car instead of pushing it to try to get around and win the thing. We ended up the bridesmaid I guess once again, but I do personally take a little bit of satisfaction that, yeah, I could have tweaked the decision there to have had a little bit better outcome. But I was glad that we got second by going for it there rather than getting snookered on the last corner there by taking the cautious route.