I recently learned about a Northern California race car driver who is competing in the highly competitive IZOD IndyCar Series. His name is J.R. Hildebrand and he is from Sausalito, in Marin County. He was born on January 3, 1988 which makes him just 23 years old. At 14, he started racing Go Karts at Infineon Raceway. He later graduated from Redwood High School in Corte Madera where he played varsity baseball and was a National Merit Scholar. He was accepted by MIT, but has had to put his college plans on hold. Last December, J.R. signed a multi-year contract to drive the #4 National Guard car for Panther Racing in the IZOD IndyCar Series. After the first race at St. Petersburg he is the leader in his pursuit of the Rookie of the Year award.
The following is a press release from Panther Racing about J.R. Hildebrand and the race this Sunday, the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
LEEDS, Alabama – (April 7, 2011) – The National Guard Panther Racing team was forced to leave the IZOD IndyCar Series open test at Barber Motorsports Park a day early due to an on-track incident that caused minor damage to the No. 4 car. But following the St. Petersburg race the team returned to Leeds, Alabama last Tuesday for a private test day to make-up for the day they missed earlier in the month. Driver JR Hildebrand was nearly two seconds quicker during the test, giving both driver and team high expectations as they return to the 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course for Sunday’s Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“At the Barber test we did here last week on my fifth hot lap we had gone faster than we had all day during the IndyCar open test,” Hildebrand explained. “That was refreshing for all of us, especially that we were able to have a super-productive solid one-day test here which has left all of us on the National Guard Panther Racing team feeling really positive moving forward. Since that initial test we found out what some of the glaring issues were and by Sunday of the St. Pete weekend we completely understood why we hadn’t started that weekend on such a high note.”
Hildebrand led all IZOD IndyCar Series rookie drivers at St. Petersburg with an 11th-place finish in his debut with Panther Racing. The 23-year-old Californian was two turns away from a Top Ten finish when he was given the chrome horn* from Danica Patrick in Turn Nine, causing him to spin and lose positions to both Danica and Justin Wilson. IndyCar officials penalized Patrick for avoidable contact and placed Hildebrand in front of the Andretti Autosport driver for his 11th-place finish.
Sunday will mark Hildebrand’s first start at Barber although he tested at the track last season with Andretti Autosport in addition to the two test days he ran the No. 4 car with Panther in 2011. Last season, in Panther’s only start at the scenic racetrack, then-driver Dan Wheldon overcame a qualification crash and 23rd-place start to finish on the lead lap in 11th place.
“The team is quite confident with where we are and I certainly understand there is a learning curve,” Hildebrand continued. “But I also understand I’m with a strong group of people to help that curve and we’re all really excited moving forward.”
*”Chrome horn” reference is patented and trademarked by Paul Tracy. The reference in this press release was used without permission.
Photos courtesy of Panther Racing.
Panther Racing Press Release
For more info on J.R. Hildebrand, go to www.jrhildebrandracing.com.