National Guard Panther Racing Driver Extends Rookie of the Year Lead, Moves Up to 13th in the Championship
MOTEGI, Japan (September 18, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand collected his best career road/street course finish Sunday at Japan’s Twin Ring Motegi, where the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie collected a seventh-place finish. Hildebrand finished one spot better than his previousnon-oval best of eighth place, which happened earlier this year on the Streets of Toronto. With the result, Hildebrand extends his lead in the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year standings to 14 points over Newman/Haas driver James Hinchcliffe, and moves up to the 13th position in the overall points’ championship.
Hildebrand qualified in the 19th position and had moved to 11th-position on the track following a quick pair of cautions for the stalled car of Joao Paulo de Oliveira (Laps 22-24) and contact between Ryan Briscoe, Dario Franchitti and Graham Rahal (Laps 26-26) – both of which occurred almost immediately after the team’s first pit stop on Lap 20. Hildebrand maintained that position until the team made its final stop on Lap 42, and returned to the field in the 11th position chasing local favorite Takuma Sato, and with three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves and defending series champion Dario Franchitti in hot pursuit behind him.
In the final 10 laps, Hildebrand moved past Mike Conway and then drove through an incident between Ryan Hunter-Reay and Sebastian Bourdais that caused the final caution flag of the race on Lap 58. A restart on Lap 61 saw teammates EJ Viso and Sato collide into Turn One and former Panther driver Vitor Meira spin off course in Turn Three, causing local cautions in both turns on the final lap. Castroneves passed Hildebrand going into Turn Three on the last lap for seventh position, but was penalized for passing under the local yellow and sent to the end of the lead lap, securing Hildebrand’s seventh-place result.
The IZOD IndyCar Series will have a weekend off as teams return to the United States before traveling to Kentucky Speedway on October 2nd for the Kentucky Indy 300, which will be broadcast live on VERSUS at 2 pm with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94 and Sirius channel 212.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda:
“We all worked together this weekend to get a car that wasn’t necessarily the fastest in the field, but one that was easy to sit back and rip off some laps. And for today’s race, that’s what you needed. The National Guard boys gave me a good car and we were able to be smart about where we were at on the track and pick points to be aggressive. Really happy with the way it worked out and that we were able to hold off Helio (Castroneves) and Dario (Franchitti) at the end, and all-in-all a good run for the boys here and a great way for us to end the road course action for this season. I’m happy to see Dixie (Scott Dixon) get a win here. I know how hard he works and on top of that he’s one of the nicest guys in the paddock. It’s cool to see that pay off for him; he’s had a lot of tough luck this year, so big ups to the No. 9 car boys.”