J.R. Hildebrand To Drive For Panther Racing in 2012 and 2013.

J.R. Hildebrand from Sausalito, driver of Panther Racing's No. 4 National Guard car.

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.”

J.R. Hildebrand at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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.


J.R. Hildebrand Starts 15th in Las Vegas, Racing for Rookie of the Year

LAS VEGAS, NV (October 16th, 2011) – IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year hopeful JR Hildebrand will start Sunday’s IZOD IndyCar World Championships at Las Vegas in the 15th position, while teammate Buddy Rice will have to start 33rd after his qualification attempt was nullified because Rice went below the white line during his run.

J.R. Hildebrand of Sausalito with teammate Buddy Rice.

Hildebrand posted a combined two-lap average of 220.639 mph and will start just one position behind James Hinchcliffe, who leads the Rookie of the Year battle by just six points going into Sunday’s 200-lap race. Rice made a qualification run in the Fuzzy’s Vodka entry, completing a two-lap average of 220.392, but IndyCar officials penalized Rice for driving below the white line during his run and he was sent the rear of the field.

The Kentucky Indy 300 will be broadcast live on Versus on Sunday, October 2nd at 2:00pm with additional coverageprovided by the IMS Radio Network, XM channel 94 and Sirius channel 212.

JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda:

“This is actually faster than we were expecting to go, but it’s really close up there. Practice has been side by side, ten rows deep so I think it’s really going to be about what kind of racecar you’ve got and what you and your team can do in the pits. We feel pretty good about where we’re at right now. The kind of side-by-side racing her in Las Vegas has been crazy. I think we have got tohave to run mistake free, and it looks like James (Hinchcliffe) and I right now are going to be right next to one another. We’re really stoked to be where we’re at right now, and it really comes down these guys, they give me great equipment every race and we just fight to the end every time. And that is most certainly our plan this weekend.”

Buddy Rice, No. 44 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Dallara Honda:

“I think the Fuzzy’s Vodka car is pretty good, I just missed out a little in qualifying. We were a little slower than we were in practice; I thought we would have picked up a little time in qualifying. We’ll be ok, the car is really racy and will be pretty good. We’ll just have to work a little harder come Sunday to get this car up front. I don’t think the car count is going to be that much of a deal. I think it’s going to go back to pack racing like it did 3 or 4 years ago. Some guys have run that way and some haven’t, so we’ll just see how it plays out. It’s just going to be a big chess match, so you have to make sure you have no mistakes.”


Panther Racing, Press Release

J.R. Hildebrand Flys An F-16 With The U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

LAS VEGAS, Nevada (October 12, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand knew he was in for the ride of his life at Nellis Air Force Base on Tuesday, where the United States Air Force Thunderbirds gave the 23-year-old rookie the opportunity to fly in one of their F-16 fighter jets. What he didn’t realize, however, was that nearly as soon as they’d taken off that Captain Nick Holmes, fittingly the Thunderbirds pilot No. 4, was going to allow the reining Indy 500 Rookie of the Year to fly the plane himself.

“It seemed like soon as we got up on the air, the pilot says, ‘Hey man, you wanna fly the plane?” Hildebrand said. “I was thinking, ‘Are you kidding me?’”

IndyCar Rookie J.R. Hildebrand from Sausalito, CA with the Air Force Thunderbirds.

While Hildebrand was allowed to maneuver the jet during the ride, the real flying was done by Capt. Holmes, who took JR on a ride that included barrel rolls, a full loop, aileron rolls, flying inverted (upside down), a mock bombing run and pulling a 9-G turn – a move that earned Hildebrand a 9-G pin, a commemorative pin for the few who have pulled 9 Gs in an aircraft. The flight average roughly 500 mph while they reached a speed just under Mach One flying over the picturesque Sierra Nevada mountains.

“I was freaking out when we pulled nine Gs; you feel like your eyes are popping out of your head,” Hildebrand explained. “This what just an unbelievable experience that far exceeded my expectations. And what was cool about this too was being able to fly in the No. 4 jet, we’re proud of that number and it’s pretty cool to see the other side of that here with Captain Holmes and all these guys with the Thunderbirds who work so hard on all this equipment.”

Capt. Holmes, who is referred to simply as “Number Four” around Nellis Air Force Base, is the Slot in the Thunderbirds lineup, meaning his flies in the position directly behind Pilot Number One, who is the lead – or point – of the Thunderbirds historic diamond formation.

The F-16 Fighter Jets of the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds

“He did an awesome job,” Capt. Holmes said of Hildebrand afterward. “It was such a thrill to show the other Number Four how our team works. It’s always an honor to be able to showcase the pride, professionalism and teamwork embodied by America’s Airmen every day.”

It was the thrill of a lifetime for Hildebrand, the self-described “adrenaline junkie”, who told Panther officials at the time of his signing last December that two things he wanted to do this season was fly in an F-16 and jump out of a plane. He marked the first off the list on Tuesday and National Guard officials have already agreed to arrange for him to jump out of a plane after he recovers from ACL knee surgery which is scheduled shortly after the season concludes this Sunday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Many of the Thunderbirds were quick to inform Hildebrand that when NASCAR driver Carl Edwards flew with them earlier this year, he won the race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway that weekend and gave them the trophy to put on display at Nellis.

“So no pressure, right?” Hildebrand joked with the pilots and crew. “I’d be happy to take Rookie of the Year this weekend, for sure. I’m just not sure I’ll get the same adrenaline rush standing up there with the trophy as I got from these guys.”