Hildebrand out, Briscoe in at Panther Racing
JR Hildebrand is out at Panther Racing after a little more than two years, his contract terminated today by the IZOD IndyCar Series team. The Californian’s best result for this long-serving squad was his second-place finish at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2011, when he crashed in the fourth turn on the last lap, allowing the late Dan Wheldon to speed past him for victory. Hildebrand recovered to finish second.
The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion made 37 starts in the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone Indy car.
This week’s replacement for the Indy Dual at Detroit is Ryan Briscoe, who has experience with a Chevrolet-powered Indy car, having driven for Roger Penske the past five years, last year with Chevrolet power.
Briscoe drove for Chip Ganassi in a Honda machine at Indianapolis last Sunday, finishing 12th. It’s his only race in the series thus far this year and Briscoe does have commitments at Le Mans in another week for the pre-race test session and the race that takes place the same weekend as INDYCAR’s Iowa race, the fifth (or sixth, if you count this weekend’s doubleheader) in a row.
The question comes up regarding Hildebrand’s future in the sport. He had been talking with Tyler McQuarrie about some Formula Drift action later in the summer during an INDYCAR break, but that becomes feasible now. He might also appear at Uncle Dale’s Summer Camp (Dale Coyne Racing), where many drivers have rehabbed their careers as the No. 19 has no permanent driver.
The straw that broke this camel’s back was Hildebrand’s Indianapolis 500 finish – he was last after crashing on the fourth of 200 laps. It’s often said that you can’t win a race in the first turn and at Indy; it’s important to conserve until at least 3/4 of the race is completed. Nineteen Indy car drivers understood that, finishing on the lead lap of this endurance contest, but JR was too aggressive too early and sealed his fate, it appears.
By replacing Hildebrand with a seven-time winner, Panther Racing has, for this weekend, a knowledgeable and successful driver in the National Guard machine. “He’s a championship-caliber driver who’s proven he can win races on any type of track in the IndyCar Series,” said John Barnes, Panther Racing managing partner. “We have no doubt he can jump right into our program and put the No. 4 Chevy at the front of the field.”
Australian Briscoe owns victories at nearly every type of track the series visits: on the St Petersburg street/airport course in 2009, at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2008 and on the Sonoma Raceway road course last year. He won at The Milwaukee Mile in 2008, on the Kentucky and Chicagoland mid-size ovals in 2009 and took victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 2010.
What Panther Racing decides to do after this event, well, at this point nobody knows. They have the option of speaking with Oriol Servia, who is familiar to the team having worked with Panther/DRR before that squad shut down after Indianapolis. Catalan Servia, also a Firestone Indy Lights titleholder, has deep engineering background and is well known for his ability to keep a car together, to pass cleanly and regularly, and to bring a car home in one piece.
Words and Photos By Anne Proffit