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Panther Racing re-signs JR Hildebrand for next two seasons IndyStar
JR Hildebrand
Panther Racing has exercised its two-year option on JR Hildebrand's contract, ensuring he will drive the No. 4 National Guard entry for the 2012 and 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series seasons.

Hildebrand, 23, the reigning Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, recorded two top-five and five top-10 finishes.

His first full season was eventful, highlighted by a runner-up finish in the Indianapolis 500. 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. In September, he broke a bone in his hand during an incident in the Baltimore race, but again responded the following race with a seventh-place result at Twin Ring Motegi. He also suffered a bruised sternum and a concussion in a crash at the final race of the season.

"We're happy that we're able to keep JR in the No. 4 car for the next two years," 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 race car 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 had knee surgery after the season to repair the torn ACL and is not expected to miss any off-season testing. He is scheduled to test the 2012 Dallara chassis for Chevrolet in early December.

Hildebrand, a Sausalito, Calif., native, signed with Panther Racing in December 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.

"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."

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