Hildebrand to Panther in 2011?

UPDATE #2 This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today. The full-time American driver in the IZOD IndyCar series was a limited edition in 2010 with only Ryan Hunter-Reay, Danica Patrick and Marco Andretti competing in all 17 races. But that’s going to change in 2011 reports Robin Miller at Speedtv.com. It will be announced Tuesday afternoon that California’s J.R. Hildebrand has secured the National Guard seat at Panther Racing, while Chip Ganassi has called a Thursday press conference to confirm Ohio’s Graham Rahal and California’s Charlie Kimball will be teammates on a new team owned by the reigning IndyCar title owner.

“You cannot believe how exciting this is for me," said the 22-year-old native of Sausalito, CA, who grew up in the shadows of Infineon Raceway. “To get one of the premier rides in IndyCar is something I always dreamed about.

“To come up through the ladder system and get to this point is huge.

“And, to not have to bring any sponsorship, well I don’t take that for granted because I’ve grown up in an era where drivers were forced to find sponsorship."

We have updated our 2011 IndyCar Silly Season page – see link above.

12/09/10 Panther Racing is still a few weeks away from naming its successor to pilot the No. 4 National Guard Indy car, but after a strong two-day test on the 1-mile oval at Phoenix International Raceway, J.R. Hildebrand appears to have strengthened his place on the team’s short-list of candidates.

John Barnes

Panther Racing’s team owner, John Barnes, told SPEED.com, testing at PIR with Hildebrand was less about seeing how fast the 22-year-old Californian could pedal their Dallara-Honda, and more about how the aspiring IndyCar driver jelled with the team and adapted to their working style.

“We took this test very seriously, and wanted to make sure we understood the scope of our decision if we decide to make a driver change. What’s important is that whoever drives for us next year fits into the Panther family. The team was encouraged by J.R.’s intellect and his ability to grasp suggestions from our team and how quickly he adapted to a track he’s never been to. We’ll continue to work with J.R. to evaluate his skill set and how he could potentially fit into this team. This entire process is very similar to what we did in 2000 where we tested several drivers under adverse conditions to gauge their reactions and I feel like we found the right guy for 2001 just like I feel this exercise will help us find the right fit for 2011."

Although Hildebrand tested one of Andretti-Green Racing’s Indy cars on the Kansas oval in 2009, the 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion had little to draw from when he turned his first laps at Phoenix.

J. R. Hildebrand

“We just finished up and it went really well," he said. “But I’d never been to the Phoenix oval, so from my perspective, getting to know the track was my first priority. The track also hasn’t seen any racing for a little while, and the rubber that was left on the track was from the NASCAR race, so it took a little while to get everything to our liking.

“On top of that, and strictly from a setup perspective, Firestone no longer makes what you’d call their ‘Phoenix’ tire, so we used the closest thing which was their Richmond tire, and that has a lot of stagger built into it. It made the car turn very aggressively on a 1-mile oval, so we had to adjust for that in my driving and the car’s handling, but [Panther Racing engineer] David Cripps was right on top of it. He had it sorted out quickly and we were flat-out by the end of Tuesday. I think that made everybody happy." More at SPEEDTV.com

12/07/10 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, J.R. Hildebrand, drove the #4 National Guard IndyCar for Panther Racing in a test at Phoenix International Raceway today. Nothing signed yet, but it could happen.

Leave a Reply