Hildebrand Finishes Fast Friday Eighth on the Final Speed Chart
Two Qual Simulations Enough for National Guard Panther Racing Team with Pole Day Tomorrow
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - (May 18, 2012) – A mere 15 laps was enough for JR Hildebrand and the National Guard Panther Racing team to post the eighth-fastest time of the day during Fast Friday practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. With the team receiving a boost increase in its Chevrolet motor for today’s practice and tomorrow’s qualifications, Hildebrand posted a top lap speed of 225.571 mph.
Pole Day qualifications tomorrow will determine the top 22 starting positions for next week’s Indianapolis 500, including the Top Nine shootout that will take place at the end of the day. In 2011 Panther driver Buddy Rice made the Top Nine shootout and qualified eighth for the race, and Hildebrand started in the 12th position for his first attempt at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.
Barnes, Hildebrand Make Surprise Visit to Fans in Turn Three Today:
The last thing fans seated all the way out in Turn Three must have been expecting Friday afternoon was for an IndyCar driver and team owner to show up with a golf cart full of free merchandise, but that’s exactly what happened today when Hildebrand and Panther team owner John Barnes made a surprise visit at the north end of the Speedway. With a golf kart filled with hats, posters, decals and hero cards, Hildebrand and Barnes hung out in Turn Three for an hour signing autographs and giving away a hoard of team merchandise. Fans quickly began chanting Hildebrand’s name and assured him he had instantly become their pick as the next Indy 500 winner.
“We’ve done this almost every year,” Barnes said of the impromptu visit. “I tell everybody on our team that it’s the fans who pay our bills and give us the opportunity to do this for a living. So Ithink taking a few boxes of hats and posters out to them and spending an hour of our day out here is the least we can do.”
Hildebrand - The Difference a Year Makes:
Entering May in 2011 Panther rookie driver JR Hildebrand was a relatively unknown driver around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The former Indy Lights champion had made just six career IndyCar Series starts at the time, with a best career finish of tenth. But after his dramatic runner-up finish in last year’s ‘500’ Hildebrand is a hot commodity around the Speedway, and Friday alone had two video production crews following his every move – the NBC Sports crew, working on the upcoming IndyCar 36 episode, and another crew from GoPro cameras, a personal sponsor or JRs. He’s also had hoards of fans greeting him outside his garage and pits every time he comes to and from Gasoline Alley. It’s a very welcome change for JR and his National Guard Panther Racing crew.
“The big thing for us is that after everything that happened last year you can have a situation like that and get a lot of different reactions from people,” Hildebrand explained. “But 99% of the folks that we bump into just want to go out and see us kick some ass. That’s what it’s all about for us and that’s why it’s so cool to see that from all the fans.”
: JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet: "We feel pretty good. We’d like to find a little more speed in the National Guard Chevy, but we more or less accomplished everything we set out to do today. Now it’s just a matter of trying to figure out what our target speed will end up being when Pole Day comes around tomorrow. The Panther boys have done a good job and the Chevrolets look strong out here so far, and that certainly bodes well for us. The thing we did a good job of today is just focusing on what we’re doing and figuring out what we can get out of the car while just loosely paying attention to what other people are doing. The boys have done a great job staying out of the whirlwind that becomes practice at Indianapolis and hopefully that pays off for us.”