National Guard Panther Team to Start in Row Eight for Grand Prix of Alabama
LEEDS, Alabama – (April 9, 2011) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand collected his best career IZOD IndyCar Series startingposition after qualifying 15th on Friday for tomorrow’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama. The qualification effort was a substantial improvement forPanther, after the team finished 26th on the combined practice chart from the two practice sessions held at Barber Motorsports Park on Friday.
Hildebrand finished eighth in the first qualification group with a top speed of 114.573 mph, 1:12.2684 seconds. He will start tomorrow’s 90-lap event in the eighth row alongside Andretti Autosport driver Mike Conway. Team Penske teammates WillPower and Ryan Briscoe swept the front row with Power taking the pole position in his No. 12 entry.
Hildebrand enters the weekend leading the IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year standings following an 11th-place finish at the series’ opening round in St. Petersburg. The last time Panther ran a rookie full-time was Tomas Enge during the 2005 season, where he finished runner-up in the rookie standings behindDanica Patrick. Last season Panther driver Dan Wheldon started in 23rd position at Barber after a spin in qualifications but the former Indy 500 winner was able to move up to 11th position by the end of the race. Sunday will mark Panther’s second start at the scenic 17-turn, 2.38-mile permanent road course.
The Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama will be broadcast live this Sunday 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:
“Obviously we’re here to be in the top five so it’s still frustrating to be outside the top six in our group but certainly considering where we’ve been this weekend the National Guard Panther Racing guys were able to pull it together and make some fairly significant improvements. Looking at the overall standings, we’ll start 15th tomorrow, but we’re legitimately in the range of the 10th-to-12th quickest cars just because we got stuck in the group that had four of the five fastest guys in it. We’re very optimistic considering where we’ve come with the racecar, and we’re looking to capitalize on what we’ve got right for the race tomorrow.”