SAO PAULO, Brazil - (April 29, 2012) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand collected a seventh-place finish Sunday in the Sao Paulo Indy 300, Panther’s second consecutive Top Ten finish on a temporary street course. The result moved Hildebrand into a tie with Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe and RLL's Takuma Sato for the seventh position in the IZOD IndyCar Series championship standings heading into next month’s 96th Running of the Indianapolis 500.
″I’m stoked for the guys,” JR said following the race. “I had left something on the table during qualifying this weekend and I really wanted to get out there and hustle it and pick off some guys and get us up to the front. And through some good strategy calls and a good National Guard Chevy we were able to do that and it was a lot of fun.”
Hildebrand started in the 14th position but was up to eighth by the second caution period of the day following contact between Mike Conway and Dario Franchitti on Lap 27. The team had Hildebrand duck in for his second pit stop just a few laps later, after another caution flew for an incident involving six cars in Turn Two. The pit stop dropped JR only a few positions, as he restarted on Lap 33 in 12th position but moved back inside the Top Ten just one lap later.
After racing with Franchitti and Takuma Sato on the restart, Hildebrand battled with fellow Firestone Indy Lights graduate James Hinchcliffe for nearly the entire duration of the next-to-last stint. The duo, two of IndyCar’s brightest young stars, engaged in a spirited fight while moving up the grid as multiple cars in front of them pitted. Hildebrand was running fourth when he was finally called to pit lane on Lap 54 for his final stop of the race. During a caution on Lap 63 for an incident involving Josef Newgarden, JR was back to eighth position and gained one more spot on a Lap 67 restart when Conway was involved in a eight-car pileup that Hildebrand narrowly escaped. The National Guard team held its ground during the subsequent restart and the closing final five-lap shootout to collect the seventh-place result.
“This track, especially now with the different engine manufacturers – and the car is more sensitive when you take downforce out – lends itself to being able to make some passes out there,” Hildebrand explained. “You combine that with the difference between the red and black Firestone tires and it made for a really exciting race. It certainly was for us.”
Panther has collected Top Ten finishes in each of its three starts in Brazil, including a Top Five in the inaugural race here in 2010. Hildebrand’s 10th-place finish in Sao Paulo last year was his first career IndyCar Series Top Ten finish. Sunday’s result was his second Top Ten in four starts in 2012 and the seventh Top Ten finish in his 23 career IndyCar starts.
Chevrolet continued its season-long dominance as Team Penske driver Will Power captured another victory and was followed to the checkered flag by another Team Chevy driver, Ryan Hunter-Reay. Chevy has captured every pole position and race victory in the four IndyCar races this season and seven of today’s Top Ten finishers were Team Chevy drivers.
“I know all of us at Panther are happy to come away from here with a solid Top Ten,” JR concluded. “Especially heading into the month of May in the top ten in the points standings. We’re ready to get back to Indianapolis and get down to business.”
This is the highest Panther has ranked in the points’ standings entering the Indianapolis 500 since 2002, when the team was the championship leader with Sam Hornish Jr. entering the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. The team has finished runner-up at Indy in an unprecedented four-consecutive seasons with three different drivers; Hildebrand (2011), Dan Wheldon (2010-2009) and Vitor Meira (2008).