At this time last year, JR Hildebrand had yet to see the Dallara DW12. Now, he and his Panther Racing colleagues are perfecting the small things about the new chassis.
The attention to detail is paying off. Without the intent of big numbers, Hildebrand turned solid laps Thursday during the final session of a three-day IndyCar test at Sebring. What mattered most was the progress.
“We came to realize at the end of the season that, while our general setup was where it should have been, there were some specific areas that we didn't know enough about,” Hildebrand said. “We didn't have enough information or data to back up any changes we might want to make.”
With testing further limited during the offseason, Panther and other teams focused on similar tweaks and minor experiments at Sebring. Panther went through three differential configurations Thursday alone. The results were positive, Hildebrand said, but not necessarily reflected by the timing and scoring numbers.
“It's an area where we knew had we had play it conservatively last year, but we also know there is performance there. If it's a known quantity, change it from one diff setup to another. We've narrowed our focus during the offseason to figure out how to maximize specific areas of the car.”
Hildebrand also is bonding with teammate Oriol Servia, who joined Panther last year when the team merged with Dreyer & Reinbold.
“It started out a little tumultuous, mainly because it started midseason,” Hildebrand said of the merger. “We never really had time to streamline how we were working together and who was calling the shots. But through and through, Oriol has been nothing but transparent. He's been a great advocate and teammate for me to bounce things off. The guy always wants to go out and go fast.”