Hildebrand tells Detroit students about racing technology

Angelique S. Chengelis
The Detroit News

Detroit — IndyCar driver J.R. Hildebrand has such a passion for racing that he put off attending MIT to pursue his goal that nearly yielded an Indianapolis 500 victory in his first attempt six years ago.

Hildebrand, in town on Thursday as part of a Detroit Grand Prix promotion, has always been intrigued by the science of racing. He shared with a group of Central High students who are interested in robotics his thoughts on how physics transfers to the sport.

As part of the presentation, Comerica Bank announced it will take 50 students from Central High on an exclusive field trip to the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix on June 2 during Free Prix Day, which is sponsored by the bank. The Grand Prix on Belle Isle is June 2-4.

“I started a foundation a few years ago just to do this basically,” Hildrebrand said, referring to talking to students about futures in racing. “I’ve always been interested in the subject matter. You get in and have a couple experiences in classrooms where you see some of the light bulbs kind of switch on. It’s kind of an addictive experience. You’d like to be able to do that more.

“We have such a cool thing that we do (in racing). It’s not even about giving back. It’s just about kind of inspiriting a little bit more interest in not only what we do but in all the stuff that provides the background for it.”

During the presentation by Hildebrand and the Grand Prix, students learned how IndyCar racing is tied to technology and physics not only in the car, but also in data-providing items like the super-specialized ear pieces the drivers wear that send signals to the crews with wide-ranging information.

He took questions from the students, including what are some of the best technological advancements in racing and also who he considers the toughest drivers and his goals.

Hildebrand, 29, did not have a full-time ride the last three years until this season. He is coming off a 13th-place finish at St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I’ve learned a lot from being out of the car,” he said. “Being in more of an observational role. Been one foot in and one foot out. Obviously been running Indy and a couple other races the last few years, so been kept up to date with what’s going on.

“For not being full time for a few seasons, felt pretty prepared to get back into it. But at the same time, I think I also realized how much you have to constantly be learning and be trying to figure out all these little details. At this point, the series is just so stacked. If you’re going to be in the top 10, you’ve got to displace some Penske and Ganassi cars to get up there. There are so many good guys on great teams that there’s no room for error on the driver or the team’s side.

“I look at it in some ways even as a personal development thing, like I want to get better even at these processes that we go through to be competitive over the race weekends to hopefully be in a position where I feel like I really understand exactly how that stuff works. Everyone is always chasing it, but there’s a lot to be gained in that department. It’s a challenge. It’s going to be a challenge for us this year for sure.”

While he hasn’t raced in Detroit for a couple of years, he has been here for the races. The Belle Isle circuit has always been considered among the toughest street courses, and drivers face it in races on Saturday and Sunday.

“This is just a tough event for everybody,” Hildebrand said. “The fact it’s back-to-back, the schedule on the weekend is totally different, (and) you’re coming off of whether you do well or not, burnout after the 500. It’s a lot of mental strain over the course of the month of May.

“You’ve got to get fired back up and get ready do rock and roll here when we show up. It’s going to be a challenge, no doubt. It’s one of the most physical tracks we go to to start with.

“We’ve got the back-to-back events and that just adds to that dynamic. The track itself is totally non-stop.”


Twitter.com: @chengelis

Dual in Detroit

What: Chevrolet Detroit Grtand Prix

When: June 2-4, Belle Isle, Detroit


Defending champions: Sebastien Boirdais and Will Power

Tickets: Go to detroitgp.com for more information