J.R. Hildebrand from Sausalito, our only Northern California driver competing regularly in the IndyCar Series, showed us again that he has a great future ahead of him. Starting in the 4th spot, he spent the entire day in the top ten and made several outstanding passes on some of the series biggest stars. He is the leader in the Rookie of the Year standings and seems to be learning quickly how to compete in the IndyCar world. Here is the race summary from his Panther Racing team.
NEWTON, Iowa – (June 25, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand put together the best drive of his young career Saturday night at Iowa Speedway, where the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie diced his way through the field for a fourth-place finish on the 7/8-mile oval. Hildebrand battled for a majority of the night with open-wheel’s biggest stars, including Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti, Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan and just missed out on a podium finish during the 250-lap thriller in front of a sold-out Iowa crowd.
“First time running up front rubbin’ with the big boys and a helluva run for the National Guard Panther Racing boys,” Hildebrand said after. “We’re really excited about how we did today. There are certainly still some things to learn from myself so I can earn those guys’ respect but we had a great car tonight. There were a couple of spots out there that got a bit dicey, but the car was great the entire race.”
With the finish, Hildebrand jumps back into the Top Ten in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings, where he is now in eighth position. He also extended his lead in the IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year standings, where he now leads second-place driver James Hinchcliffe by a total of 27 points. The result was Hildebrand’s second Top Five and third Top Ten finish of the season.
After starting in fourth position, Hildebrand lost one position to a charging Franchitti and remained in fifth position until the team’s first pit stop on Lap 26. JR slightly over-shot his marks and lost two spots exiting the pits but was able to make the positions back up on the racetrack, passing Danica Patrick and Briscoe to return to the Top Five by Lap 77. Another near-incident leaving the pits on the team’s next stop on Lap 95 – where Hildebrand got sideways after Marco Andretti pulled out on front of him with Briscoe on his outside – caused Hildebrand to return to the field in eighth position on a restart on Lap 107.
As the race progressed Hildebrand again passed Briscoe (Lap 108) and then Dixon (Lap 130) to once again reach the fifth position. As drivers cycled through green-flag pit stops Hildebrand reached the lead of the field on Lap 184 until a caution flag allowed the team to make its final pit stop under yellow at Lap 187. Hildebrand restarted in fifth position for an exciting last mad-dash to the finish.
“I felt if we could have started the last restart closer to the lead we could have finished up there, but this was a really cool experience for all of us at Panther tonight,” JR continued. “Hopefully we can turn this into something positive for the rest of the season.”
The most exciting moment of the race came when Hildebrand passed Briscoe again on Lap 227, going underneath the Team Penske driver and making slight contact with the lapped car of EJ Viso on the exit of Turn Four in the process.
“I had a run on (Ryan) Briscoe coming out of Turn Two so I got underneath him and I was trying to keep him high so that I could pin him behind the lap car, because I’d had that happen earlier to me by another driver,” JR explained. “He boxed me in there and I tried to slow it down there and I got a little wiggle and just got into Viso a little bit.”
Hildebrand had one more move left before the 250-lap race concluded, passing championship point leader Franchitti into Turn One on Lap 142 to secure the fourth place result for the National Guard Panther Racing team.
The IZOD IndyCar Series will take a weekend off before traveling to the Streets of Toronto for the Honda Toronto Indy, which will be broadcast live on VERSUS, Sunday, July 10th at 2:00 pm (ET) with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94 and Sirius channel 212.
www.JRHildebrandRacing.com – www.pantherracing.com – www.NationalGuard.com