Panther drops Hildebrand, hires Briscoe
30 May 2013
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.
“I'm unbelievably excited to be back in the IndyCar Series with Panther Racing and to have the opportunity to drive the National Guard Chevrolet this weekend,” said Briscoe. “I've competed against this team for a long time and it will be great to have the opportunity to work with John Barnes and the Panther guys.
"I'm confident we'll all work well together and be able to hit the ground running this weekend in Detroit," he added.
“We couldn't be happier to have Ryan Briscoe join Panther Racing this weekend,” said Barnes. “He's a championship-calibre driver who's proven he can win races on any type of track in the IndyCar Series.
"We have no doubt he can jump right into our program and put the #4 National Guard Chevy at the front of the field," he continued. "In his career he's gone toe-to-toe with the best drivers in this series and won a lot of races. We're all very excited that he's going to become part of our family here at Panther and look forward to getting him on the track this weekend in Detroit."
Briscoe has seven series wins to his credit on road, street and oval tracks, and has also taken 13 career poles including last year's Indianapolis 500 top spot. Since being dropped by Penske, the 31-year-old Australian has been racing for Level 5 Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series where he took P2 class victories in the 12 Hours of Sebring and at Laguna Seca earlier this month.
The team announcement of Briscoe joining the team was careful to say that this was for the Detroit back-to-back races only and did not address the long-term future of who will be in the #4 car for the rest of the 2013 season.
One possibility is that Oriol Servia - who drove for Panther's sister team Dreyer and Reinbold Racing until last weekend, when the team was forced to suspend operations following the Indy 500 due to a lack of sponsorship funding - will take up the seat, but reports say that the Spaniard's current contract situation needs resolving before that can happen, necessitating Briscoe's short-notice stand-in role at Belle Isle.