JR Hildebrand

For hi-resolution photos of Panther’s National Guard Chevrolet on track from Sebring, please contact:maryalice.williams@pantherracing.com

To view in-car video footage from the test at Sebring, please visit: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dzOozRDCYbs&feature=youtu.be

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at Sebring International Raceway, in his first road course test in the DW12 chassis. Previously, Hildebrand tested the car at Homestead-Miami Speedway as part of a manufacturer test with Chevrolet. Below are the second-year driver’s responses after returning to the race shop following the two-day test:

It had to be nice to finally get back out to a racetrack with the team and run again. This was your first run on a road course in the DW12 – what were your initial impressions?

I felt like as a team, and me kind of getting used to it as a driver, we made good progress over the couple of days. And that’s really what it was all about; trying to figure out what’s going to be different. Rather than try to start changing things right away, we went out and tried to get used to how it ran now, and just be open to maybe a different outlook on what we need to be able to do to make the car go fast.

It’s definitely nice to get back on the road courses and start working on things. As much as it’s not massively different, since lap times were fairly similar to what we had been doing, there definitely are some things that I needed to adjust to - like new carbon brakes. I think in the end it will be a definite increase in performance for the car. It took a while to get used to how they work. I think more people went shooting through braking zones in these last two days at Sebring than you would have in a month when you would have been running before.

Beyond that, the carbon brakes are definitely a whole different ball of wax. Right now, we found them to be much more sensitive, and a little bit tougher to kind of manage. It was clear right away, though, that the performance was better. So that will just be an ongoing process to hone in on what we need to be doing. I think in the end that will change the driving style you use to get in the car and go around the race track, because the braking zones in the end will be shorter, and that will have some effect on how you get through the corners as well.

All things said and done, it was a successful and productive couple of days for us, and by the end of the second day we felt like we were quite competitive with where everyone else was at.

As a driver, when you compare the IR03 to the DW12, what are the biggest differences?

With the previous car, and I think I speak for a lot of the drivers, you ended up with chronic under steer and that was something that was just kind of standard, it was just one of the things you ended up dealing with. As much as this whole weight distribution has been brought up as an issue for ovals, in some respect it might be a bit of a benefit for street and road courses because it does allow the car to turn, maybe even too well. So that, from a handling perspective, was definitely different.

The other thing is the turbo engines; it’s just kind of a different feeling. I didn’t find it particularly difficult to get used to. It’s not like we’re going out there all of a sudden with 1000 horsepower, but there is a different style in throttle application through and out of corners. I think it’s going to take some time to figure out how to get the most out of the car. In the old car there had bit more low end torque and not as much high end horsepower so it was kind of linear in how you applied the throttle. So you got used to waiting to get to the point when you actually need the car to go and getting on the throttle. With this it’s different because you have that little bit of lag, so you have to think ahead of time, “up there I want the car to be going so now I need to give it a little more gas now.” It’s just an ongoing process.

It was back in December you got your first chance to drive the new car on the oval at Homestead during Chevrolet testing. What were some of your initial impressions back then?

It was very cool. Probably the coolest thing, for me, was just being in a position where you’re working with the manufacturer and they really need your specific input about how things go.

I got a little bit of the vibe before I got going that day that I was kind of the new kid on the block and I wasn’t the guy that had years of experience, that helped develop a car before and that kind of stuff. But once we got into the run plan and got going I think whether it was some of the other engineers with other Chevrolet teams about the car itself, or the Chevrolet engineers that were there regarding pit stop stuff, or how the car ran on the track, or how it runs in certain conditions or whatever, they were very keen to ask my opinion of things. You could tell you were making a difference in some way that your input was being valued for things that they were going to continue to try in the future.

That’s something that we all experience on a daily basis at the race track at some level working with an engineer trying to make the car better. You know all of a sudden this time around with reference with all kinds of new things. So that was kind of neat to be able to have the chance to start thinking about things a little bit differently as well.

Having to sit there and talk to the engine guy just about anything is something that I’ve never had to do with the current car. You just get in and the motors are what they are, they’ve been tuned up over the years and it’s already totally under control. Where as this time around, anything is fair game to help make, whether it’s the engine itself or the processes, much better. So that was just neat. I’ve always prided myself in some way on my ability to give feedback about stuff. So that was neat to be able to do it with some new people in a different way.

Obviously preseason testing is a key component going into any IndyCar Series season, but can you overstate the importance of testing this offseason as all the teams try to get a handle on having a new chassis?

Without a doubt, I think this year it’s even more important than it has been in years past. I think a big piece of that is being able to gage how quickly other people are figuring things out, especially for us going into the season as a one car team, going into testing where there are a bunch of other cars we really get a feel. It’s always hard to tell what people are doing, and what strategies they have, but in this day and age there is rarely sand bagging on test days, and I think that will be a big piece of it.

We’ve certainly got our own ideas about it, and working with Chevrolet it’s a collaborative group of the Chevy teams that work together on things. You just never know what people are doing or what people are finding. In the end, as cut and dry as it seems, lap time is a pretty good indication for how quickly people are figuring things out. I know from experience we had throughout the year, just keeping up, whether it’s drivers figuring things out or teams figuring things out, that will be super important.