National Guard Panther Team loses telemetry at costly point, gets caught out on alternate strategy.
SAO PAULO, Brazil – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand led his first laps of the 2013 season during the Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300, but had to settle on a 15th-place finish after the team lost telemetry and got stuck on an alternate fuel strategy.
Hildebrand had spent a majority of the race battling amongst the lead group of cars, but an out-of-sequence pit stop and – later – a broken front wing prevented Panther from making its way back to the front of the field.
The team pitted during the caution and on the Lap 39 restart he got caught in an accident involving Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud, and sustained front wing damage that required an additional trip to pit lane for a replacement front nose assembly.
He returned to the field in 20th, but was able to climb the grid quickly to 10th place before another caution on Lap 52 for the stalled car of Tony Kanaan.
The team elected to keep Hildebrand on track while several other cars pitted and the National Guard car was at the lead of the race on the Lap 54 restart. Hildebrand held onto the lead – the seventh time in his career he’s led an IndyCar race – before the final caution period of the race came out when Justin Wilson got stuck in the tire barrier on Lap 56.
Hildebrand ducked into the pits for a final time during that caution, but when he returned to the field he was back in 20th as no other cars needed to pit. In the final stint of the race, Hildebrand was able to pass several cars to reach his final finishing position of 15th position.
Chevy driver James Hinchcliffe made a dramatic last-lap pass on Takuma Sato to capture the win for Andretti Autosport. Sato finished second and was joined on the podium by third-place finisher Marco Andretti. Panther DRR driver Oriol Servia finished in fourth place in the No. 22 Chevrolet.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet: “The definite good thing was that the National Guard Chevy was really good. We were really good in the tight sections of the track, and we tried hard to make for a neutral car, because we thought we’d be saving fuel. And it was working well for a while, and I was able to make up a lot of time in the infield sections where you’re not saving fuel anyway, which allowed me to save a lot on the straights.
Then the team lost telemetry, and when we lost it, we didn’t have a clear understanding of where we were on fuel, so we ended up pitting at an inopportune time, and ended up behind everybody and still had to make as many stops as everybody in front of us. It was frustrating because we were going fast enough up front to hang with anybody.
But, despite that, the last two weekends I don’t think we’ve made a change to the car that hasn’t made us better, so we’re looking forward to Detroit and Toronto later in the year, which is something I haven’t said in years past. But now it’s time for Indianapolis – and that’s our wheelhouse.
Next week is as important as the first week on the racetrack to get prepared, so we’ll be smart about that like we have in the past and we’ll be hauling ass when we get there.”