National Guard Panther Racing Team Prepares to Open IZOD IndyCar Series Season
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – (March 26, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand qualified for his first IZOD IndyCar Series race on the Streets of St. Petersburg in the 25th position. Tomorrow afternoon’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will mark the American rookie’s first start with Panther in the team’s No. 4 National Guard car and his first career IndyCar start on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile temporary street circuit.
The team utilized the red Firestone alternate tires for its qualification session, and turned a total of nine laps, posting a best speed of 101.527 mph, 1:03.8256.
Panther has seen a frustrating conclusion to each of its last two events at St. Pete; former driver Dan Wheldon was running in the Top 10 last year before a suspension failure, and the previous year Wheldon ran in second position for a majority of the event before being taken out by former IZOD IndyCar Series driver Robert Doornbos. Panther’s best finish in St. Pete was a fifth-place effort by Vitor Meira in 2008 and the team recorded its best starting position of fifth by former driver Tomas Enge in 2005.
Hildebrand made four starts at the St. Petersburg track during his Firestone Indy Lights career, including a pole position and podium finish during 2009, the season in which he captured the Indy Lights Championship crown. The track is also thesite of Hildebrand’s first career Indy Lights podium, which he captured in the second St. Pete race in 2008.
Hildebrand made four starts in St. Pete total in Indy Lights, collecting a pole position (2009, Race 1) and three Top Five finishes in addition to leading a total of 22 laps.
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:
“We thought we were on the right track with where we were going with the setup, but we didn’t end up with the results that we were expecting. We’re going to keep at it, and make some changes to the National Guard car for the warm-up tomorrow. The race here is always a whole different gig and with the number of guys who have ended up in runoffs and in walls here this weekend means survival is going to be a big part tomorrow. We’re going to see what we’ve learned from this and bounce back tomorrow.”