Hildebrand will be a full-time IndyCar racer with Panther this year.
Graham Rahal and Charlie Kimball in Chip Ganassi Racing-run cars; J.R. Hildebrand at Panther Racing; Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Danica Patrick confirmed at Andretti Autosport: The IZOD IndyCar Series' 2010-'11 off-season has already been a source of joy for domestic fans seeking homegrown talent to cheer for in the year ahead.
Aside from Rahal gaining a Ganassi seat, the big news of the winter was J.R. Hildebrand's test at Phoenix which convinced all at Panther that he was the man to replace the departing Dan Wheldon. An even greater surprise was that he didn't have to bring sponsorship: just be in the right place at the right time with the right talent.
Observes Hildebrand (LEFT): “Driving those couple of races for Dreyer & Reinbold last year helped my cause in getting this full-time ride with Panther, but without doubt a major factor in my favor was the simple fact that there's been a pretty active musical chairs scenario going on in IndyCar this winter.”
The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion will be the sole driver at Panther, and Hildebrand acknowledges that challenge. “It puts a massively high priority on personal preparation, doing everything I can before I get to a racetrack in order to know everything I can about it. As much as that, it also puts a huge demand on the team to communicate in an effective way. But that's where I feel we'll punch above our weight, because almost the entire team has been together a number of years and I already have a strong relationship with them. I'm optimistic about what we can achieve.”
Last winter, Hildebrand tested – and impressed – for the Force India Formula 1 team, but with the severe limitations on testing, a lack of deep-rooted knowledge of the car and knowing none of the tracks, he saw pursuing that route to stardom as a substantial risk and one he'll only pursue if he's guaranteed substantial track time and a long-term deal.
One American who last year pursued the European route and is expected to continue there in 2011 is Alex Rossi (RIGHT) who enjoyed a superb year in the all-new GP3 Series, scoring two wins and finishing fourth in the championship. At press time, he was looking at options to either continue in GP3 or graduate to GP2. After Rossi finished fourth in the final GP2 test of 2010 Racing Engineering president Alfonso de Orleans-Bourbon stated: “I'm surprised by this young talent. Alexander is for sure one of the contenders for the 2011 season. It was a pleasure for Racing Engineering to work with him and the results show that this combination works well.”