JR Moves Up From 15th-Place to Score Fourth Top Ten Finish of the 2012 IndyCar Season
TORONTO, Canada- (July 8, 2012) – What was shaping up to be a tough weekend for the National Guard Panther Racing team turned itself around Sunday on the Streets of Toronto, where JR Hildebrand drove from his 15th-place starting position into a seventh-place finish. The result was Hildebrand’s fourth Top Ten finish of the season, his second-straight in Toronto, and he led the event, marking the first time in his IndyCar career he’s led laps in a non-oval event.
The finish was Panther’s third-consecutive Top Ten finish in Toronto, and one position better than Hildebrand’s eighth-place finish in his IndyCar debut on the tight street course in 2011. The result leaves Hildebrand in the 14th position in the IZOD IndyCar Series point standings, but the 24-year-old American is now just six points out of 11th place and just 18 points out of ninth place in the standings.
“For me the biggest takeaway is that we got to the point where we had a good car in the race,” Hildebrand said. “Today it was nice to be able to lean on Oriol a little bit (on the setup) and last year when we finished well here it was about just not crashing into people that put us in the Top Ten, whereas I think honestly if we had caught the first yellow on the right side we could have had a podium finish.”
The race was an impressive comeback effort for the team, after effectively losing both of Friday’s practice sessions after discovering at the end of the day that the right-rear brake rotor had a malfunction. Then Saturday, rain during the morning practice session left the team with little usable data to develop its setup for today’s race. Despite the limit of valuable practice time, Hildebrand qualified 17th yesterday, and moved up two positions to start 15th after the grid penalties for James Hinchcliffe and Alex Tagliani were enforced for unapproved engine changes.
At the start of the race the team worked on a two-stop strategy and left Hildebrand on track as long as possible while many other competitors came to pit lane early. During that stretch Hildebrand moved up to sixth place before a caution flag came out for a single-car crash involving Graham Rahal. The team pitted under the caution flag and continued in 14th during a long green-flag stint, during which Hildebrand slowly climbed the grid while the different fuel strategies played out. The National Guard car moved all the way to the lead of the field before making its final stop on Lap 57 for fuel and alternate Firestone tires.
“It’s a testament to what the National Guard Panther Racing guys do that we were able to figure everything out and have this kind of success on raceday,” JR continued. “This weekend, up until today, had been a bit of a disaster; all kinds of things that aren’t anybody’s fault, but it’s the kind of thing that just happens sometimes in racing that we all learn from.”
Follow his last stop Hildebrand spent 18 laps chasing three-time Indy 500 winner Dario Franchitti, until passing the defending league champion into Turn Three on Lap 76. A yellow flag on Lap 80 for Josef Newgarden ensured several cars ahead of Hildebrand – who may not have made it on fuel – had enough to make it to the end. A frantic final restart with just four laps in the race concluded with several close calls for Hildebrand, and several other cars crashed on the track, but ultimately concluded with Panther in seventh place in the race.