30 May 2013
Panther drops Hildebrand, hires Briscoe
Panther Racing has terminated its contract with driver JR Hildebrand by 'mutual agreement' and announced that Ryan Briscoe will drive the #4 National Guard car at Detroit.
JR Hildebrand has parted ways with Panther Racing and will not be competing in this weekend's Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, the first double-header of the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series calendar.
“We'd like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers,” said Panther Racing managing partner John Barnes in a team statement.
“JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011," Barnes continued. "We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future."
The 25-year-old from Sausalito, California is best remembered as the driver who went into the final corner of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 in the lead only to crash and hand the victory to Dan Wheldon, ironically himself a former Panther Racing driver. Since then Hildebrand's finishes haven't been anything like as spectacular, with only four top five finishes to add to that near-miss second place at Indianapolis out of a total of 37 starts in the #4 National Guard car.
Hildebrand exited this year's Indy 500 just four laps into the race when he crashed out in turns 1 and 2 in a solo accident. That appears to have been the final straw for the team, which has seemingly decided it was time to make an early change ahead of the end of Hildebrand's contract with the team that was due to expire at the end of the season.
"I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity to drive the #4 National Guard Chevrolet,” said Hildebrand.
"It was a privilege to represent our men and women in uniform, along with the National Guard Youth ChalleNGe and the team's veteran employment initiatives," he added in the team statement. "I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter in my IndyCar career, and wish all my friends at Panther the absolute best."
On Twitter later on Thursday after the news broke, Hildebrand said: "It is true, I will no longer be driving the #4 National Guard car for Panther Racing. I want to thank the team for their efforts and hard work, it was a privilege to represent the National Guard, the NGY Foundation and employment initiatives while there.
"I am very much looking forward to the next chapter of my IndyCar career, as wish all my friends at Panther the best," he continued. "I'd have expected to have strong weekends over the coming months, but it is what it is. I am very confident that I will land on my feet and be back on track competing with the big boys soon enough."
Panther subsequently confirmed that they had hired former Penske driver Ryan Briscoe to compete for them in this weekend's two races at Detroit. Briscoe made his return to the IndyCar Series this month at Indianapolis for Ganassi, after Penske slimmed down to a two-car regular line-up for 2013.
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