Promising F2000 Racer J.R. Hildebrand Wins 2005 Team USA Scholarship
Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. (October 17, 2005) ---- J.R. Hildebrand has been named winner of the prestigious Team USA Scholarship for 2005 and will follow in the illustrious footsteps of such former winners as Jimmy Vasser, Bryan Herta, Jerry Nadeau, Tony Renna, Buddy Rice and A.J. Allmendinger.
Hildebrand, 17, from Sausalito, Calif., has distinguished himself in his first season of professional racing, finishing second in a close-fought Pacific F2000 Championship and earning three podium finishes from just four starts in the East Coast-based Cooper Tires Championship Series for Formula Ford 2000 cars.
Hildebrand's prize will include entry in the Formula Palmer Audi Autumn Trophy series, which will comprise a total of six races run over two consecutive weekends next month at the famed Snetterton and Brands Hatch road courses in England.
"It's such an amazing opportunity," says Hildebrand, who is still in high school and is the youngest driver to win a Team USA Scholarship since the program's inception in 1990. "Obviously, to get the experience of racing in Europe and driving a car which has so much more power and huge tires, and to race on such great tracks, means an awful lot.
"There's a real history behind the program and it's produced so many great drivers. It's looked upon very highly by everybody in the sport, and being a part of it is almost unbelievable right now."
In common with so many of today's established stars, Hildebrand gained his first experience of competition in karting. Atypically, however, Hildebrand didn't spend years honing his skills. Instead, a little more than 12 months after contesting his first race in the Jim Russell Racing School's low-key Arrive-and-Drive program at Infineon Raceway, Hildebrand was invited to the Russell School's Graduate Run-Offs in 2003. His talent was immediately apparent. Despite his rookie status, Hildebrand scooped the top prize and repaid the faith that was shown in him by clinching the 2004 SCCA Formula Russell Championship on the strength of seven wins from 19 races.
His first year of professional racing, in 2005, has been similarly impressive. Hildebrand guided a PR1 Motorsports Mygale to 12 consecutive top-five finishes from his first dozen races, then added a strong third-place finish recently at the challenging VIRginia International Raceway, driving one of P-1 Racing's Zetec-powered Van Diemens for the very first time.
"It has been my privilege to watch many, many talented youngsters over the years, but I have to say I have been very impressed by what I have seen so far from J.R.," says Team USA Scholarship founder Jeremy Shaw, whose career as an auto racing writer and broadcaster has spanned over 30 years. "He's young, he's intelligent and he's fast. Those are certainly good attributes to start out with in this sport!"
The first Team USA Scholarship was awarded in 1990 to Jimmy Vasser, who, coincidentally, also was competing in FF2000 at the time. Vasser went on to win the 1996 Champ Car crown, earning the first of a record four consecutive titles for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing. He is now the elder statesman of the Champ Car World Series, yet remains at the top of his game as part-owner and driver for PKV Racing and currently lies sixth in the points table.
"I saw J.R. race at Cleveland in June and he did a very good job," says Vasser, who along with Champ Car and IRL race winner Herta, the 1991 scholarship winner, has remained a staunch supporter of the project which is aimed at promoting young American drivers on the world stage. "I still remember the opportunities that came to me as a result of winning the Team USA Scholarship and I'm proud to be able to continue that legacy."
Details of other Team USA Scholarship supporters will be announced soon.