National Guard Panther Racing Team turns tables on tough start to 2013 season with fifth-place.
LONG BEACH, Calif. – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand captured his second-consecutive Top Five finish in the Grand Prix of Long Beach, where the California native finished in fifth-place on Sunday.
Hildebrand got a boost from his Panther Racing pit crew on his final stop of the race, and then picked-off several cars en route to his best finish of the young 2013 IndyCar Series season.
After advancing to the second round of qualifications yesterday Hildebrand started in the 12th position, and was able to avoid a carnage-filled early portion of the 80-lap street race.
Hildebrand hung around the Top Ten for a majority of the first half of the race, until the team pitted on Lap 51 after a caution came out for an incident involving Andretti Autosport driver Ryan Hunter-Reay.
The National Guard crew had one of its best stops of the year, which helped elevate Hildebrand from 12thand into ninth position before the field restarted on Lap 55.
As the laps counted down, Hildebrand began to move his way up the Long Beach grid; passing Simon de Silvestro for ninth, then Simon Pagenaud for eighth, and finally Marco Andretti for seventh position.
Hildebrand then attempted to close on teammate Oriol Servia, who was battling Tony Kanaan for a Top Five position, when the two rival drivers crashed entering the first turn of the street course.
Hildebrand luckily split through the wreckage and catapulted into fifth place before an eventual caution flag came out for Kanaan’s car, which was stuck in the tire barrier.
AJ Foyt Racing driver Takuma Sato captured his first career IndyCar victory at the conclusion of the Grand Prix of Long Beach, and the former F-1 driver was joined on the podium by second-place finisher Graham Rahal and Justin Wilson.
The team will now travel to the next race of the season in Brazil, where Hildebrand has finished in the Top Ten in each of his two starts; 10th in 2011 and seventh last year in 2012.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet: "I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop.
We struggled in the first stint and were going backwards, but we had a great strategy and ended up on the sticker reds in the end and I was able to pass several guys there at the end just using the overtake.
I didn’t see (the incident between Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan) because I’d let those guys go a little bit while we were saving to make sure we had enough fuel.
I saw some tire smoke as I approached Turn One and was able to split through the middle. Really happy to get another Top Five here for the second year in a row, but we’ll make sure we put the work in to make sure we’re ready to rock-n-roll next race.
If we continue to make gains like we have we’ll be running up front with the big boys a lot more often.”