IZOD IndyCar Series Debuts this Weekend on Popular St. Petersburg Street Course
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – (March 24, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing and rookie driver JR Hildebrand will kick-off the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season this weekend on the Streets of St. Petersburg for the Honda Indy Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. The race will mark Hildebrand’s debut in the No. 4 National Guard Panther Racing entry after he was signed to a multi-year contract agreement to join the team in December. The IndyCar newcomer made just two previous starts in the series last season for Dreyer & Reinbold as a temporary replacement for then-injured Mike Conway.
This will be Hildebrand’s first IndyCar Series start in St. Pete, although he earned his first career Firestone Indy Lights podium there in 2008 and the following year captured the pole position while driving for Andretti Autosport. Hildebrand led both the Lights races there in 2009, but was plagued by mechanical issues in each of the weekend’s two events. Both of his career IndyCar starts have been on permanent road courses (Mid-Ohio and Infineon) so this weekend will mark his first experience in an IndyCar machine on a temporary street circuit.
Panther has been successful in St. Pete in its history and recorded a best startingposition of fifth with Tomas Enge in 2005 and a best finishing result of fifth with Vitor Meira in 2006. Dan Wheldon was running within the Top Ten competitors here last season before a suspension failure on the front straight ended the team’s day in the 20th position. Panther has led at St. Pete on two occasions; in 2005 with Enge and with Meira in 2008.
The No. 4 National Guard car is returning this season to the popular ACU Camo, black and red livery that first debuted in last year’s Indianapolis 500. The paint scheme was featured in the 500 and two subsequent races in 2010 and due to popular demand will be run for the majority of the 2011 IZOD IndyCar Series season.
The core of Panther’s operation has remained intact during the offseason, with longtime chief engineer David Cripps and chief mechanic Dan Miller returning to lead the team’s on-track operation. Former Indianapolis 500 polesitter Pancho Carter returns to Panther this season as the team’s spotter and driver coach, after having worked with Sam Hornish Jr., Tomas Scheckter, Vitor Meira and Wheldon in previous tenures with the team.
SGT Aaron Bass Named Panther’s “Hometown Hero” for St. Pete Weekend ST. PETERSBURG, FL – National Guard Panther Racing has named SGT Aaron Bass its “Hometown Hero” for the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg weekend. SGT Bass has served in the Florida National Guard and is presently assigned to CO A, 2-124 Infantry as an 11B (Infantryman). He is a 2004 graduate of Baptist Church Academy in Lakeland. In 2005, he was mobilized for State Active Duty in South Florida to assist with Hurricane Wilma. SGT Bass has been deployed two times in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom. His first deployment was in 2006-07 where he served as a .50Caliber Machine Gunner in the volatile region of Tal Afar Iraq. SGT Bass recently returned from Kuwait in December of 2010, serving in his second tour where he served as an Infantry team leader in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.
SGT Bass has attended the Warrior Leader’s Course and the Combat Life Saver Course. He is currently enrolled as a full-time student at the University of South Florida working towards completing his bachelor’s in 2013 earning his degree in Business Management. He currently resides in Lakeland, Florida and works with his father at their family-owned business, Keith’s Nursery.
He has earned the following military awards: two Army Achievement Medals; two ArmyCommendation Medals and the prestigious Combat Infantry Badge. Panther Launches Redesigned PantherRacing.com Website
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Panther Racing has re-launched its team website, www.pantherracing.com with longtime partner RACERSITES. The new website features complete integration of social media platforms Facebook and Twitter, allowing fans who mention Panther or driver JR Hildebrand to see their tweets shown live on the main page of the team’s website. The site also features playable video from the site’s homepage, updated desktop wallpapers and many other new features.
The IZOD IndyCar Series season opener will be held Sunday, March 27 on the Streets of St. Petersburg, with live coverage provided by ABC starting at 12:30 p.m. (ET) and additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 121.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda: “I’ve always really enjoyed St. Pete and I got my first Firestone Indy Lights podium there the first weekend of the year in 2008 and it’s been a good track from the beginning. Since 2009 I felt like I’ve got some unfinished business there, when I led both races and had mechanical problems. I’m looking forward to getting back out to the racetrack, and St. Pete suits my style in a lot of ways, and a lot of the testing we’ve done this offseason has shown us the direction we want to go on the street courses. So a lot of our preseason preparation has lent itself to the National Guard car being good this weekend around St. Pete.”