Hildebrand Makes Japan Debut, Finishes 12th in First Practice Session
IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Battle Tightens with Just Three Races Remaining on Schedule
MOTEGI, Japan (September 16, 2011) – A busy day of off-track activity for National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand concluded with the day’s only practice session at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi, where Hildebrand posted the 12th-quickest practice time amongst the 26 IZOD IndyCar Series competitors who recorded lap times. Hildebrand will be making his first career start in Japan, as the series will be competing on the track’s 14-turn, 2.98-mile permanent road course after a major earthquake in March caused damage to the popular 1.5-mile oval.
Hildebrand turned a total of 23 laps on the day and posted a top speed of 106.808 mph, 1:40.5435 seconds. Team Penske teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves recorded the top two lap times, respectively, on the day. With just three races remaining on the schedule, JR is in a tight battle for the IZODIndyCar Series Rookie of the Year title with Newman/Haas driver James Hinchcliffe, who trails Hildebrand by just three points.
The day’s only practice session was preceded by a flurry of activity for Hildebrand, as the 23-year-old experienced the passion of Japanese fans for the first time on Friday. JR joined many of his fellow drivers for a charity auction in the morning and then the team hosted and gave a tour to a group of kids who were adversely affected by the March earthquake and subsequent tsunami. The full 26-driver field then held an autograph session on the front straightaway of the oval track before track activity finally began.
The Indy Japan 300 will be broadcast live on VERSUS at 11:30 pm on Saturday, September 17th with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94 and Sirius channel 212.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda: “I like it here a lot, and I think it’s a really cool track. Between the tire and the grip level of the track – we’re just trying to figure that out and get a feel for how compliant or stiff we need the car, and that’s what we spent a majority of our time on today. But I like the track; it’s got a good flow to it and it’s got some interesting corners and being as long as it is, it’s really challenging to put the whole lap together. There are a lot of heavy braking zones here and there are a couple corners that aren’t as easy to get off the corner as people thought they might be. I definitely think as you go through longer runs you’ll end up seeing some good passing out here during the race. This is my first time in Japan and it’s almost shocking how kind everybody is; as soon as we got off the plane everybody here goes out of their way to help you out, and the fans here are so passionate. You go through the autograph line and they know their racing well, and they recognize us with our hats & sunglasses on and it’s been a neat experience and I’m really enjoying my time here.”