Dreyer & Reinbold hopes Indy 500 leads to IndyCar return

Dreyer & Reinbold Racing made a memorable debut when Robbie Buhl won the first IndyCar race the organization entered.

That was at Disney in 2000, and 18 seasons later, the Carmel-based racing team is still seeking a second trip to the winner's circle.

The task has become much more difficult since the team scaled back following the 2013 Indianapolis 500, which was DRR's final race as a full-time IndyCar team. The years since have been focused on running just one event, "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing," as team owner Dennis Reinbold seeks a path back into the series.

The road again runs through Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where the team has expanded to two entries for the May 27 race. Sage Karam and J.R. Hildebrand will attempt to qualify for the Indy 500 in DRR entries and perhaps open the door for the team to consistently participate in the series.

"We wanted to gear up in case we wanted to do some further races down the road," Reinbold said Wednesday. "To do that, we had to have the equipment. We expanded our equipment. When you do that, 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."

Karam made his Indy 500 debut with DRR in 2014 and finished ninth, a result many believe should have earned him rookie of the race honors. The award instead went to NASCAR driver Kurt Busch, who finished sixth as he competed in both Indy and in the Coca-Cola 600 in North Carolina. Karam was in a crash in 2016 driving for DRR, and his battery failed in last year's race.

He is back at Indy with DRR for a fourth time, and it's the only race so far on his schedule this year.

"We've had a couple rough go's, some bad luck the last few years," Karam said of Indy since his debut. "We've always had really strong cars, but something kept us out of it."

Because of those issues, and what team owner Reinbold hopes to grow the team into, Karam is feeling the pressure to deliver. But with 35 entries for just 33 slots in the race, the team will be pressed to avoid being bumped from the field.

"I feel like every year I feel more nervous," he said. "I felt like my first year I came in here, I didn't really know much of what to expect and everything, so I wasn't incredibly nervous. Then every year I come back, I get more and more nervous because I know the magnitude of this place more, what it means to do well here."

Veteran Hildebrand also has only the Indy 500 on his schedule.

Hildebrand was one turn away from winning the race in 2011 until he smacked the wall exiting the final corner and coughed the victory away. He's been back in good cars since, but without a full-time ride this season, Hildebrand is adjusting on the fly with Karam to a new model Indy car.

"Being full-time last year, you get used to showing up at places and having it be (good) right away, whether you've been there recently or not," Hildebrand said. "I think with the new car, everybody is dealing with a lot of the same things initially just to try to come to grips with it, come to grips with it in traffic. I think we're all trying to wrap our heads around it, but feel really good about this team's ability to sort it out."

In expanding to two cars for Indy this year, Reinbold felt he put together the best available pairing.

"It was kind of a no-brainer," he said. "Both guys are exceptionally good at this track. Our focus for this year is this track, so we wanted both these guys. To have a partnership and a teammate situation, it just helps you to be better. We wanted to get there."

He takes exception to the idea that the DRR entries could be at a disadvantage because the team has not raced yet this year. Instead of trying to get on the track earlier, the sole focus has been on building the best cars possible for the Indy 500.

After that? He doesn't know.

"We don't really have a timeline," Reinbold said. "It's just going to happen somewhat organically. We need the budget to go do that. That's the priority. That's going to be what dictates our timeline if we're able to pull that off or not."

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