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Hildebrand, Karam Focus on Indy-only Present To Build Bigger Future with Dreyer & Reinbold

The goal is the same, but the approach is different this time around for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.

Team owner Dennis Reinbold is fielding the only Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil entries with no connection to a full- or part-time Verizon IndyCar Series team. At present, it’s one-and-done this year come May 27.

This year also marks the first time since 2011 that DRR has entered two cars in the quest to make the 33-car starting grid. JR Hildebrand, driving the No. 66 Salesforce/DRR Chevrolet, is seeking his eighth Indy 500 start while Sage Karam chases his fifth start in the No. 24 WIX Filters/DRR Chevrolet.

Reinbold – who has fielded cars in the Indy 500 since 1999 – would like to turn success this month into additional races later in the season but knows there are no guarantees.

“We wanted to gear up in case we wanted to do some further races down the road,” Reinbold said Wednesday. “So to do that, we had to have the equipment to do so. We expanded our equipment. We bought two new chassis this year. There's new electronics involved, tires, radios. I mean, it goes on and on what you have to do to do that.

“Our main focus was we wanted to get two really strong drivers for this race, then that way it does set us up for whatever we do in the future. That was our plan, pretty pure and simple.

“I decided to invest some expenditure into setting ourselves up for the future is what it amounts to.”

In Karam and Hildebrand, DRR may have drivers who are perfect complements to one another. Karam, 23, has become known for his breathtaking passes and charges to the front. Hildebrand is the cerebral student of the sport, more calculated than daring, who moonlights as a guest instructor at Stanford University.

Karam appreciates the additional data that a second team driver provides, especially from a driver of Hildebrand’s IQ level.

“Being as intelligent as he is, it definitely is cool to hear what he has to say, his ideas, bounce things off of him,” Karam said. “I was joking around earlier. I said, back in school, if I was going to school with JR (and) I had a math test coming up, didn't really know that I was going to have a test or didn't study the night before, JR would be one of the guys I'd sit next to in the class.”

Hildebrand and Karam share one sentiment: showing their skills in the Indy 500 to increase their chances of returning as full-time Verizon IndyCar Series drivers.

“This is the only race we're signed up for this year right now,” said Karam, who drove in 12 series races for Chip Ganassi Racing in 2015 but has been an Indy 500-only competitor since. The Pennsylvanian’s best finish in four tries on the 2.5-mile oval was ninth in his rookie year of 2014 with DRR.

“A lot of people say you're remembered by your last performance,” Karam said. “We’ve got to come in and perform because ultimately we want to be in a seat more times than just the Indy 500. To do well at this race, I think is a bit bigger than doing well at a different race. If you can win this one, it's pretty good.”

Karam would like to excel as much for his team owner as much as for himself. He has driven for Reinbold in four of his five Indy 500 appearances.

“Dennis is talking about doing more races,” said Karam, who skyrocketed through the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder by winning the USF2000 championship in 2010 and Indy Lights crown in 2013. “If we can do well for Dennis, I think it helps him out, as well, helps our effort going full time or part time in the future. It's like a two-way street: good for us, good for the team, good for all the sponsors.”

Hildebrand, the 2009 Indy Lights champion, lost his full-time ride with Ed Carpenter Racing at the end of 2017. The 30-year-old from Sausalito, California, owns four top-10 finishes in seven Indy 500 starts, including runner-up as a rookie in 2011. He’s motivated by the possibilities.

“A lot of it's just about over the course of the month, then kind of culminating with Race Day here, just trying to build momentum, build momentum with the team, with the team's sponsors,” Hildebrand said. 

“That's a big part of if we can kind of roll in and have everything cranking upward toward Lap 200 (of the race), that leaves everybody feeling good about continuing to stay involved.

“Like Dennis said, 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. 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.”

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