Eventful Homecoming for Hildebrand Ends with Panther in 23rd Position
Alternate Strategy Doesn’t Pan Out for National Guard Panther Racing Team at Infineon Raceway
SONOMA, Calif. (August 28, 2011) – An eventful Indy Grand Prix of Sonoma for local favorite JR Hildebrand concluded with the National Guard Panther Racing driver in the 23rd position in the final running order. An alternate fuel strategy that backfired, and contact with Marco Andretti that caused a flat tire, prevented the current IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year points’ leader from making another dramatic climb to the top of the grid.
Hildebrand is currently 13th in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings, but is just four points behind 11th-place driver Takuma Sato. The Rookie of the Year battle with Newman/Haas driver James Hinchcliffe has tighten immensely in the last month, as Hildebrand now leads Hinchcliffe by just three points in the chase. There are a total of four races remaining on the schedule, an equal split of road/street courses and oval tracks. Both Hildebrand and Hinchcliffe are graduates of Firestone Indy Lights, a series which Hildebrand captured a championship in 2009.
JR started in the 20th position and pitted eight laps into the race to put the No. 4 team on an alternate fuel strategy, but the move proved to be costly as Hildebrand, Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato were caught behind a much slower car for several laps and lost valuable time to the leaders. Hildebrand reached as high as 14th on the grid as other drivers cycled through their pit stops, but that was as high as the National Guard team would get during the75-lap event. On Lap 54, as the team was preparing for its final pit stop, Andretti’s front wing made contact with Hildebrand’s right-rear tire as the two drivers battled for position in Turn Seven, causing JR’s Firestone tire to go flat, and costing the team more valuable time on the track as he had to limp back to pit lane.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda: “It was a long day at the office. We tried to go off-strategy in the beginning of the race and pitted early to make it a three-stop race to try to get ourselves out of traffic. And that ended up not working at all because a lot of us – Kanaan, Sato and myself all ended up getting backed up behind Ed Carpenter. The track obviously wasn’t very fast, and we ended up with a lot of understeer, so we were just working the fronttires too hard to last that long in a run. So I was trying to run an even pace over the run from the beginning of a run to the end of a run. (On incident with Marco Andretti) I was getting ready to pit anyway, and we had contact up inturn seven and I got a flat tire that put us even further behind. Then after that I made a couple mistakes going off and lost a couple positions because I was trying to push to get some spots back. These Panther guys just kept working hard and we had a lot of National Guard guys out here this weekend, and we always like to do well in front of those guys. And, being my hometown you want to make a good impression every time you come here, but sometimes this is what happens.”