2009 Firestone Indy Lights Champion JR Hildebrand has finally landed a full-time IZOD IndyCar Series ride. Panther Racing made the rumors official today when the Indianapolis-based team confirmed the multi-year contract, handing over the wheel to the #4 National Guard entry to Hildebrand .
“I couldn’t be more excited to be at Panther Racing and a part of the National Guard,” the 22-year-old Hildebrand said. “This is my first full-time IndyCar ride and the Panther No. 4 car is one of the best seats in the IZOD IndyCar Series, so to be able to start my career with a team with this kind of pedigree is just huge.”
The California native tested at Phoenix International Raceway last week and will become the first full-time American Panther Racing pilot since 2003 when Sam Hornish Jr. drove the #4 Penzoil entry, and will try to top the team's 3-consecutive 2nd place finishes at Indianapolis in his rookie season.
“We took a very calculated and methodical approach to making this decision because anybody who represents the 350,000 Soldiers in the National Guard has a tremendous responsibility both inside and outside the racecar," said Panther Racing Co-owner John Barnes. "We feel like JR is going to be a tremendous asset to the IZOD IndyCar Series, and what really set him apart is his ambition and his intelligence – this is a kid who was a National Merit Scholar, and accepted to M.I.T. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology). We tested him at Phoenix last week and brought along my friend Al Unser Jr. to help us with the evaluation, and all of us knew by lunchtime of the first day that we’d found the next driver of the No. 4 car. We know we all have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but our expectations are very high for the 2011 season.”