INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (November 16, 2011) – Panther Racing confirmed today that it has exercised its two-year option on JR Hildebrand’s contract, ensuring the 23-year-old Californian will pilot the team’s No. 4 National Guard entry for the 2012 and 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series seasons. Hildebrand, the reining Indianapolis 500 runner-up and Rookie of the Year, just completed his first full IndyCar Series season for Panther and led three races while collecting two Top Five and five Top Ten finishes during the year.
“We’re happy that we’re able to keep JR in the No. 4 car for the next two years,” Panther Managing Partner and CEO John Barnes said. “We signed him last year with every intention that he would be in the No. 4 car for the foreseeable future and he proved both inside and outside the racecar that he was a perfect fit for this team and what we represent. The true test of any athlete is how they handle adversity, and I couldn’t be more impressed with how he handled himself during the course of this season. Everybody at Panther has learned a lot from the Soldiers in the National Guard, and it’s great to see how well Hildebrand represented all those Soldiers. We’ve all got our work cut out for us for next season, and we’re very pleased that JR is going to be a part of that.”
Hildebrand’s rookie campaign in the IZOD IndyCar Series was more than eventful, highlighted by a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500 where he led until the final turn of the historic event. A week later, he tore the ACL in his left knee during a media event at Texas Motor Speedway, but bounced back two weeks later and recorded his best career qualification effort (fourth) at Iowa Speedway, where he led the race and finished fourth. In September, he broke a bone in his hand during an incident in Baltimore, but again responded the following race with a seventh-place result at Twin Ring Motegi, his career best result on a non-oval track. After suffering a bruised sternum and a concussion in a crash at the final event of the season at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, the team is looking to bounce back in 2012.
“I’m super stoked that I’m going to be back at Panther for the next two years,” Hildebrand said. “It was a crazy year for us, but we had some really strong runs and I enjoyed being a part of this team. I worked really well with my engineer David Cripps this season and I know everybody is already working really hard on improving for 2012. And I’m especially excited to be able to continue to work with the National Guard; that was a special opportunity and it was a very educational experience for me. To see the sacrifices these Soldiers make and to realize that they’ve entrusted us to tell their stories and represent them is an honor for all of us. Everybody at Panther is excited about getting started on next year and especially looking forward to getting back to the Indianapolis 500 so we can avenge our battle scar.”
Hildebrand had knee surgery immediately after the season to repair his torn ACL and is not expected to miss any offseason testing while recovering from the operation. He is scheduled to test the 2012 Dallara chassis for Chevrolet in early December, which will be his first opportunity to drive the new car. JR, a Sausalito, California native, signed with Panther in December of last year after a two-day driver evaluation test at Phoenix International Raceway. He was the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion and prior to coming to Panther made two IZOD IndyCar Series starts with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing during the 2010 season.