Hildebrand Captures Career Best Tenth Place Finish in BrazilNational Guard Driver Moves Up from 22nd, Overcomes Rainy Track in Sao Paulo
SAO PAULO, Brazil - (May 2, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand overcame wet track conditions and a 22nd-place starting position in the rain-delayed Itaipava Sao Paulo Indy 300 to capture a tenth-place finish – the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie’s career best result. Hildebrand maintains his lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year standings heading into this month’s 95th Running of the Indianapolis 500, an event in which Panther has finished runner-up for three consecutiveseasons.
Hildebrand has completed 100% of a possible 330 laps this season in the No. 4 NationalGuard entry, one of only four drivers (Dario Franchitti, Will Power and Oriol Servia) to participate in every lap of IZOD IndyCar Series competition thisyear. He has also made a habit of climbing up the grid in each of his firstfour starts during the 2011 season. Relative to his starting position, the 23-year-old Californian has advanced a total of 37 positions in his four starts to begin his rookie season; St. Petersburg (13 positions), Barber Motorsports Park (2 positions), Long Beach (10 positions) and now Brazil (12 positions). That is best amongst IZOD IndyCar Series competitors in 2011.
In the first attempt to run the race on Sunday, Hildebrand started in 22nd and was able to move within the Top Ten very quickly until both he and Raphael Matos had to drive into a run-off area to avoid a crash involving Vitor Meira, which happened just before the race was red-flagged, and subsequently postponed, due to the rain. He restarted in 16th when the race resumed on Monday, but like he had the day before, was able to quickly move up the grid of competitors and back to inside the Top Ten. He reached as high as eighth position prior to a full-course caution on Lap 34 at which point the team made its final pit stop of the day for fuel. A short trip through the Turn One runoff area cost the team a few positions, but Hildebrand quickly rejoined the field and move back into the Top Ten to collect the best finish of his young career.
Through four races the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings are extremely tight throughout the grid, with Hildebrand currently in the 16th position overall, sandwiched between league veterans Danica Patrick (15th) and three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves (17th). Hildebrand is a mere 11 points out of the Top Ten competitors heading into a four-race oval stretch, and is also amidst a tight Rookie of the Year battle, as Newman/Haas driver James Hinchcliffe trials Hildebrand by three points in the running for that award.
Panther has finished in the Top Ten in each of its two starts on the Streets of SaoPaulo, with one Top Five result captured last season in the league’s inaugural trip to the South American racetrack. Hildebrand would have captured a Top Ten finish in St. Petersburg to open the season but was struck by Danica Patrick’s car two turns from the checkered flag, a move that resulted in a penalty for the Andretti Autosport driver.
But it was a great weekend by the National Guard Panther guys, and a great race to get out there and be legitimately competitive like we know we are.
IZOD IndyCar Series competition will resume in less than two weeks at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway where the series will prepare for the 100th Anniversary of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. It was announced late lastweek that Hildebrand will be joined by 2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice in Panther Racing’s No. 44 entry for the historic event.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda: “I have to say I’ve really enjoyed these last two days in the wet. The start (today) was madness because we were all on slicks and the rain started coming down pretty heavily. Once everyone pitted for wets I was able to pass guys pretty quickly and was feeling strong in the conditions. I found myself behind (Scott) Dixon who was running behind (Oriol) Servia and (Ryan) Briscoe and I felt like I had their number and it felt good to be mixing it up with guys that are running up front every weekend. The National Guard car was legit. We pitted for fuel under caution with a bunch of other guys and didn’t take tires, which was the right call at the time, but bit us a little in the end. The track started to dry and I was having a hard time keeping the car underneath me as the tires went off and I overcooked it into Turn One and had to use the runoff, whichlost a couple positions. But it was a great weekend by the National Guard Panther guys, and a great race to get out there and be legitimately competitive like we know we are. Bring on Indy.”
-source: panther racing