by David Phillips
American J.R. Hildebrand scored a popular 4th of July win in today's Firestone Indy Lights race at Watkins Glen. The FILC points leader qualified a somewhat disappointing fourth but went to a low downforce set-up for the race that did the trick. Hildebrand passed third qualifier James Hinchcliffe on the run to Turn One to run third behind pole-winner James Davison and Andretti Green Racing teammate Sebastian Saavedra at the end of the first lap.
After Hinchcliffe deposited his car in the Turn 7 tire wall, Hilderbrand drafted past Saavedra on the Lap 10 restart then motored past Davison into the Bus Stop Chicane four laps later. Hilderbrand was never headed, nor seriously threatened thereafter despite a couple of full course yellows and resulting restarts.
"We knew we had a fast car, but we weren't sure we could get to the fr ont with the set-up we had," said Hildebrand. "So we took a gamble and took some downforce off and put in a taller top gear.
"We were thinking, 'We cannot accept defeat today. It's America's birthday.' It worked like a charm. I was able to complete the passes where the other guys were not."
On the final restart with one lap remaining, an impressive Felipe Guimaraes outfumbled Saavedra into Turn One and, when Saavedra dropped a wheel off exiting Turn Six, Charlie Kimball came through to fourth place notwithstanding the Columbian's desperate attempt to maintain position.
Saavedra's last lap meltdown and Mario Romancini suffering a broken gearbox crash, Hildebrand thus opens a sizable in the FILC points standings as the series heads to Toronto next weekend.