LEEDS, Alabama - (April 1, 2012) - In what was an exciting day of racing at Barber Motorsports Park, National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand finished in 15th position Sunday in the Grand Prix of Alabama. Hildebrand kicked off the weekend with a career-best non-oval qualification effort of fifth-place, and battled near the front of the field for a majority of the race, but slipped back several positions after the final restart of the race and into his 15th-place finishing position.
“At Barber the car tends to go to understeer so we tried to adjust to avoid that as much as possible, and we thought we’d have a neutral racecar. In the end though, the rear tires wouldn’t stay underneath me. I tried as hard as I could for as long as I could, but at the end of the stints it was pretty difficult.”
Hildebrand started in fifth alongside Tony Kanaan and slipped two positions at the start, but quickly regained two spots on a restart on Lap 4 as he passed Simon Pagenaud and Mike Conway on the outside of the third turn. The team made its first pit stop on Lap 19 and Hildebrand returned to the field in ninth position and outpaced Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe for the rest of the second stint. After the team’s second stop on Lap 42 Hildebrand battled with four-time IndyCar champion Sebastian Bourdais for ninth position. On Lap 66, just prior to a full-course yellow for the stalled car of Katherine Legge, Hildebrand ducked into the pits for the team’s final stop of the day, and took the final restart of the race in 11th position.
As the final laps ticked down Hildebrand was in 13th and entering the final turn his car was bumped twice by Briscoe, which allowed both the team Penske driver and Oriol Servia to pass the National Guard Chevy at the conclusion of the race.
“Particularly at the end of the race, we had a scuffed set of reds that probably had about five laps too many on them and that ended up catching us out a little bit,” Hildebrand continued. “But the good news is we made big strides in qualifying in the National Guard Chevy this weekend and we have great racecars at Panther. We’re going to keep putting all the pieces together and we’ll be alright.”
IndyCar reviewed the incident between Briscoe and Hildebrand but no penalty was issued by race control.
Team Chevy driver Will Power captured the race victory at Barber, making Chevrolet two-for-two in both pole awards and race victories in the first two events of the 2012 IndyCar Series season. Power was joined on the podium by Ganassi driver Scott Dixon and Helio Castroneves, who captured the win last week in St. Petersburg.
The team will now travel to southern California for the Grand Prix of Long Beach a week from this Sunday. Panther’s best career finish in the historic street race was a fifth-place result with Dan Wheldon in 2009. Hildebrand finished 17th there last year in what was his first IndyCar Series start in his home state of California.