Panther Racing has exercised its two-year option to keep JR Hildebrand aboard the team's No. 4 National Guard-sponsored entry through 2013.
Hildebrand's first full season in the IZOD IndyCar Series included his memorable last corner crash from the lead in the Indianapolis 500 but he still wheeled the car home second and won Rookie of the Year honors. A great weekend at Iowa was another highlight, as he started and finished fourth. He led three races and had five total top- 10 finishes to come home 14th in the final standings, running most races without a teammate.
He fought through several injuries as well, starting with tearing his ACL during a media event at Texas Motor Speedway. He broke a bone in his hand at Baltimore in September, and in the Las Vegas season finale he suffered a bruised sternum and a concussion. The off-season will allow for a full recovery before he gets to test Panther's Chevrolet-powered new DW12 for 2012.
“I'm super stoked that I'm going to be back at Panther for the next two years,” Hildebrand said. “It was a crazy year for us, but we had some really strong runs and I enjoyed being a part of this team. I worked really well with my engineer David Cripps this season and I know everybody is already working really hard on improving for 2012. Everybody at Panther is excited about getting started on next year and especially looking forward to getting back to the Indianapolis 500 so we can avenge our battle scar.”
“We're happy that we're able to keep JR in the No. 4 car for the next two years,” said Panther Managing Partner and CEO John Barnes. “We signed him last year with every intention that he would be in the No. 4 car for the foreseeable future and he proved both inside and outside the racecar that he was a perfect fit for this team and what we represent.
“The true test of any athlete is how they handle adversity, and I couldn't be more impressed with how he handled himself during the course of this season. Everybody at Panther has learned a lot from the soldiers in the National Guard, and it's great to see how well Hildebrand represented those soldiers. We've all got our work cut out for us for next season, and we're very pleased that JR is going to be a part of that.”
While there was no mention of whether Panther will field a second car in 2012, there's no question Hildebrand will continue to improve given a teammate to share data and information with.