IndyCar Rookie Loses Top Ten Finish After Punt from Danica Patrick on Final Lap
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – (March 27, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing rookie JR Hildebrand climbed a total of 13 spots to finish in 11th place Sunday in the Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, the opening round of the IZOD IndyCar Series season. Hildebrand was running in tenth position on the final lap of the race but was hit in the rear of the No. 4 car by Danica Patrick,which caused him to slip back two positions. Patrick was penalized for avoidable contact and Hildebrand was moved up a position, ahead of Danica, to secure the 11th spot in the final order.
Hildebrand was the highest finishing rookie, sending him to the top of the IZOD IndyCar Series rookie of the year standings. His 11th-place finish is Panther’s best result at St. Petersburg since Vitor Meira finished fifth here in 2006. The result was also Hildebrand’s best career IndyCar Series finish, besting his efforts in two starts last year for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
After starting in the 24th position, the 23-year-old Californian was able to avoid a series of caution periods and messy accidents at the start of the race. In the first lap alone, the No. 4 car catapulted up to the 15th position. Hildebrand moved up to 11th by Lap 18 as the series ofyellow flags to start the race concluded and only one more full-course caution occurred during the remainder of the race. As the race concluded, Hildebrand was in 10th position, leading both Patrick and Justin Wilson through the final lap until Patrick made contact with the No. 4 car entering Turn Nine, allowing both herself and Wilson to pass.
The ensuing penalty on Patrick moved Hildebrand up only one spot for the 11th-place result, despite team requests to be placed back inside the Top Ten, where they would have finished absent the contact from Danica.
Panther will be traveling directly to Barber Motorsports Park from St. Pete for a day of testing in preparation for the April 10th Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, which will be broadcast live on VERSUS at 3 p.m. (ET) with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 and Sirius Channel 121.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda:
“It was a battle for survival for a little while at the start of the race, which is what we assumed it was going to be. I was being cautious on those restarts and we just missed getting into several accidents on those first 15 laps, and then it basically went green for the remainder of the race. Our pit strategy worked and the Panther guys had some awesome pit stops. It was a good way to start the year for us and we’ve got the entire rest of the season in front of us.”
(On the late incident with Danica Patrick) “She was closing really hard and luckily I had a bunch of overtake assists left and I was using those to fend her off there at the end. That was working really well on the front straight but I was having a little bit of trouble finding my brake balance, so I couldn’t completely pull away from her. Going into Turn Nine on the last lap I knew she’d be coming, but I broke late and I looked when I turned in and didn’t see her nose, so I took the corner and we got tangled up.”