For those of you following the progress of Northern California native, J.R. Hildebrand in his rookie year in the IZOD IndyCar Series, it has been an exciting week. J.R. has been impressive in each new challenge and it continued this week in Indianapolis. The leader in the Rookie of the Year standings all year, showed that he is not your average rookie, completing the rookie orientation in a little over an hour and was the fastest on the track. Another NorCal rookie is former NASCAR Sprint Cup and Formula One driver Scott Speed from Manteca, CA. The following is a press release from Panther Racing.
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – (May 12, 2011) – It took National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand just over an hour to complete the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s four-phase Rookie Orientation Program on Thursday afternoon, and by the end of the day the 23-year-old Californian was the fastest of the seven rookies who participated. Hildebrand was joined on Thursday by fellow IZOD IndyCar Series rookies Scott Speed, James Hinchcliffe, James Jakes, Ho-Pin Tung, Charlie Kimball and former Panther Firestone Indy Lights driver Pippa Mann.
“This is pretty cool being at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and part of the big show for the first time,” Hildebrand said. “This is why we’re all here – everybody wants to compete in the Indianapolis 500, and it’s a big deal when you get to be a part of this event. We were actually able to complete all four phases (of ROP) in just three runs so we’re happy to get that out of the way. You can definitely feel how much quicker it is compared to the Firestone Indy Lights car, 20-30 mph quicker, and that makes a big difference all the way around the track.”
Hildebrand posted a quick lap of 221.533 mph, 40.6260 seconds and he turned a total of 68 laps on the day. Hildebrand’s teammate Buddy Rice, driver of Panther’s No. 44 entry, was on hand for the majority of the day and was quick to assist Hildebrand with nuances of the Speedway’s tricky 2.5-mile oval. Rice and Hildebrand had come to the track on Wednesday afternoon and did some laps in a road car together in preparation of Hildebrand taking his first laps today.
“It’s such a big help having Buddy Rice around as well,” JR continued. “He and I have gotten along really well and we came out here yesterday just shooting the bull about what’s going on on the racetrack and he shared some little things he’s picked up over the years, I know he’s going to be a great teammate and a great addition all around to the team. The two of us together can definitely propel things forward for the entire team throughout the month.”
ROP consists of four phases a driver much complete to participate in practice for the Indianapolis 500. The driver must complete: five laps between 200-205 mph; 10 laps between 205-210 mph; 10 laps between 210-215 mph and 10 laps above 215 mph.
Hildebrand is the current leader in the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year point standings. He made two starts at Indianapolis during his Indy Lights career, finishing runner-up in 2009, the year he won the series championship, and led the race on two occasions for a total of 23 laps.
“In terms of the feel of the car; I’ve always said the Indy Lights car is a great proving ground for the IndyCar – the feel is very similar and they’re both on Firestone tires and both on Dallara chassis,” Hildebrand continued. “We were flat chat all the way around during our last run when getting through the last phase of ROP so it’s very special to be here and able to take this all in, especially on a day like today when there’s not a lot of people out here.”
He becomes the third Panther rookie to attempt to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, joining Tomas Enge (2005) and Mark Taylor (2004). Enge started in the 10th position and was running inside the Top Ten when he was taking out by Danica Patrick, who spun during a Lap 154 restart during her rookie season. Taylor started 14th and finished 30th after contact with fellow rookie Ed Carpenter early in the race.
Open Day at Indianapolis is Saturday when the track will be open for all drivers and teams hoping to make the 33-car field for the 100th Anniversary of the Indianapolis 500. Pole Day qualifications will take place the following Saturday with Bump Day commencing a week from Sunday to solidify the ‘500’ lineup.
The 95th Running of the Indianapolis 500 Mile Race will be broadcast live on ABC on Sunday, May 29th at 12:00 pm (ET) with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 121.