DRR Ready to Up Its One-Off Game

JR Hildebrand exits pits during Indy 500 practice
In his return to the Indy 500, JR Hildebrand serves as half of Dreyer & Reinbold Racing's roster as the team expands back into a two-car program for the first time since 2011. | Photo: Walter Kuhn / INDYCAR

With no technical partner and no more races scheduled for the rest of the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing is unique in Gasoline Alley this year as the only team to be a true one-off affair at the Indianapolis 500.

Team owner Dennis Reinbold is looking to take that uniqueness — and his team’s penchant for doing well at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway — and parlay it into a more races.

Dennis Reinbold with IndyCar drivers at Indy 500
Dennis Reinbold and his drivers J.R. Hildebrand and Sage Karam spoke with the media before the second day of Indy 500 practice began. | Photo: James Black / INDYCAR

While he doesn’t have a timeline for expanding the team’s activities beyond the month of May, Reinbold acknowledges a change in not only the level of competition in Indy car racing, but the leadership’s approach as well.

“We had a team owners meeting the other day,” said Reinbold. “There were a lot of really good questions. Jay Frye headed it up, talked about the direction of IndyCar.

“I’m not divulging any secrets here when I say that it was a good two-way interaction, which frankly, since I haven’t been full-time since 2013, I was pretty impressed.”

The contentiousness of the past, according to Reinbold, has given way to cooperation allowing the focus to be on competition and the on-track product.

“I would say they’ve come a long, long way in IndyCar,” concluded Reinbold. “It’s poised for the future very, very well.”

The future of Reinbold’s race team started this week and will reach a milestone on Sunday, May 27 when two cars will roll down the front stretch and take the green flag — assuming both are able to qualify. Bumping, back this year thanks to a 35-car entry list, has brought added complexity for a one-off team like DRR.

Hildebrand Indy 500 car on pit lane
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing must place extra focus on qualifying at the Indy 500 this year due to the return of bumping. | Photo: Chris Jones / INDYCAR

In the past, a team that’s only on track from the first day of Indy 500 practice until race day itself could spend time perfecting a race setup that is conducive to running in a group of cars and making passes — in other words, not a setup that’s necessarily good at outright speed, especially the kind that’s necessary to qualify at Indianapolis.

“Not only do we have to make our race cars good, but now we actually have to make sure we have the speed running alone to actually make the race,” said Sage Karam, whose previous drives for DRR have been highlighted by an uncanny ability move from the back to the front with relative ease.

“I’m looking at the field. You can’t really pick out two cars that you’re going to say like, ‘Oh, these guys definitely are probably off the pace.’ Everybody is really, really close.

Sage Karam during Indy 500 press conference
Sage Karam’s best Indy 500 finish came in his first attempt at the race in 2014 when he started 31st but finished ninth. | Photo: James Black / INDYCAR

“INDYCAR has done a great job with the aero kit, of making it really close racing. The engine manufacturers, with Chevy and Honda — I think it’s really close this year. I think it’s going to be really tight in qualifying.”

That tightness could strike fear into the heart of a small team like DRR, especially with 35 cars going for 33 starting positions, but Reinbold has a not-so-secret weapon at his disposal this year: J.R. Hildebrand.

Known for his intelligence and a methodical approach to his racecraft, Hildebrand still lives under the shadow of the fateful 2011 Indy 500 when a crash in Turn 4 led to a second-place finish instead of a victory.

After a largely disappointing full-season effort last year with Ed Carpenter Racing that came to an unexpected end when Spencer Pigot was deputized to replace him in that team’s No. 21 Chevrolet, Hildebrand is back with the team that gave him his first two IndyCar starts in 2010.

He’s also given Karam a teammate at the “500” for the first time since 2015 when he drove for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“With two cars, we can go through the checklist a lot quicker,” said Karam.

“We can try things throughout one session. I can try aero stuff, where J.R. could try mechanical stuff — kind of try and find a sweet spot where if you only have one car, you’ve got to go through all the aero stuff, then when you’re done with that you can go through the mechanical stuff or vice versa. It makes things a lot smoother.”

Hildebrand’s intelligence isn’t lost on Karam, either.

“Bringing him in here, being as intelligent as he is, it definitely is cool to hear what he has to say, his ideas, and bounce things off of him,” Karam said.

“I was joking around earlier, I said, back in school, if I was going to school with J.R. and I had a math test coming up and didn’t really know that I was going to have a test or didn’t study the night before, J.R. would be one of the guys I’d sit next to in the class.”

JR Hildebrand prepares for Indy 500 practice
With finishes of third at Phoenix and second at Iowa, J.R. Hildebrand’s full season with Ed Carpenter Racing saw him end the year 15th in the championship. | Photo: Chris Jones / INDYCAR

For both drivers, doing well at the Speedway means pleasing their sponsors and their team owner — a positive since funding for any races in DRR’s future has yet to be secured.

“At the end of the day, it’s all about partnerships and being able to grow on that side in order to give Sage and I a chance to continue to grow with the team,” said Hildebrand.

“I think that’s really what we shoot for, just to be able to do great on race day anyway, but I think that will also go hand-in-hand with being able to do more down the road.”

While more racing for DRR and one or both of its Indy 500 drivers may be in store, it’s practice, qualifying and racing taking center stage until May 27.

The small one-car, one-off team is bigger now and eyeing an even bigger future, once it gets the biggest race in the world out of the way.

What do you think?