JR Hildebrand

National Guard Team Impressed with DW12, Newly Resurfaced Track During One-Day Run at PIR

PHOENIX, AZ. - (February 23, 2012) – The National Guard Panther Racing team completed its first day of oval testing with the IndyCar Series new chassis at Phoenix International Raceway on Wednesday and came away with two resounding conclusions: The DW12 chassis development is improving significantly and IndyCar needs to return to Phoenix’s newly-resurfaced one-mile oval – soon. 

“They’ve done a great job with the facility at Phoenix, and for IndyCars it could really lend itself to good racing,” Hildebrand admitted. “We were able to get down to business really quickly in the test and the track is much smoother –the repaving was really well done. The variable banking works well with the car and I honestly think it could be possible that there would be a usable second lane. If IndyCar wants to come back and race here, I’d put my stamp on it.“

A total of 114 laps spread over just over four hours of running was enough to convince driver JR Hildebrand, Technical Director David Cripps and Team Manger Chris Mower that Phoenix – a longtime IndyCar staple until the series stopped racing there in 2005 – would be perfectly suited for the new cars and could potentially produce some of the most exciting racing in the series. Panther won its first career race at Phoenix in 1999 with Scott Goodyear and former driver Sam Hornish Jr. won his first start with the team at PIR in 2001.

Cripps, a longtime IndyCar race engineer who considers PIR a “cornerstone” of his open-wheel career, was especially impressed with the reconfigured track. Cripps, Hildebrand and Mower all agreed that the new variable banking would allow for a second groove on the track and would ultimately produce more passing, while maintaining the same style of racing that made PIR such a popular open-wheel track over the years.

“I would race here tomorrow, absolutely,” Cripps said. “The new layout will be very conducive to the DW12 and I think IndyCar would put on a great show. They did a wonderful job with the race surface – it’s one of the most consistent and smoothest racetracks I’ve been to in a long time. I originally thought they were going to change the architecture of the track, but they’ve made it now where IndyCar would put on an even better show, and it’s still Phoenix. This is a first class facility and with the population growth around the racetrack, I think we could have held a race here last weekend.”

Mower agreed.

“If we came back to Phoenix, I think it would really suit this car,” Mower explained. “It really could be a two-lane track with the banking increase; turns one and two are wide enough, and turns three and four are tight, obviously. I think IndyCar coming back here would be a step in the right direction. Today was a good test and we learned a lot about the car, which was very receptive to the changes we made all day. But we’re off to Sonoma and we’ve got a lot of work to do there; we’ve got to improve on our performance there last year.”

For just a second-year driver, Hildebrand had some previous experience at PIR having participated in a two-day test there in December of 2010 in what was his initial driver evaluation with Panther Racing. It was during that test the team decided to sign the Sausalito, California native to drive the team’s No. 4 National Guard entry. Hildebrand went on to become the Indianapolis 500 Rookie of the Year, and finished runner-up at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in his first career start on the historic 2.5-mile oval. He had participated in one other oval test in the DW12 – a one-day test at Homestead-Miami Speedway in the Chevrolet development car in December of 2011. While noting that Wednesday’s test was in a different aerodynamic package to what he ran at Homestead, he was impressed with the car’s consistency and responsiveness to changes.

Panther picked up a two-year contract option extension on Hildebrand this offseason, securing him in the No. 4 seat through 2013.

“The National Guard car handled great and the short oval package on the car was really good,” Hildebrand continued. “The chassis was very responsive and generally did was we were expecting it to do as we went through a lot of changes. And everything with Chevy is going great –they continue to plug away and they’re making our job fairly easy. All of us were really happy with where we ended up.”

The team is traveling directly to Infineon Raceway for two days of testing on this Saturday and Sunday before the IndyCar Series holds its annual pre-season open test the week of March 5th at Sebring International Raceway. Panther will also visit Barber Motorsports Park for two more test days in the DW12 before the season kicks off in St. Petersburg on March 25th.