Panther Racing announced Thursday afternoon the termination of JR Hildebran's contract to pilot the #4 Panther Racing Chevrolet in the IZOD IndyCar Series.
“We’d like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers,” Panther Managing Partner John Barnes said. “JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011. We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future.”
In 36 starts with Panther since 2011, JR has logged five top 5's, and twelve top 10's. Hildebrand's release comes after crashing out on lap 4 of the Indianapolis 500, finishing 33rd. The 2011 '500' Rookie of the Year finished 5th at Long Beach but crashed out under caution while making changes to his steering wheel in St. Pete.
"I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity to drive the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet,” Hildebrand added. “It was a privilege to represent our men and women in uniform, along with the National Guard Youth Challenge and the team's veteran employment initiatives. I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter in my IndyCar career, and wish all my friends at Panther the absolute best."
The driver change for the #4 car comes the same week Panther/DRR ceased operations, leaving veteran pilot Oriol Servia without a ride. Servia was rumored to be the leading candidate to replace Hildebrand, but the Spainiard is still under contract with Dreyer and Reinbold and a resolution could not be found in time to get him behind the wheel of the National Guard car this weekend in Detroit.
Just 39-minutes after announcing the release of Hildebrand, Panther Racing confirmed the signing of Ryan Briscoe to pilot the teams single entry in the Detroit double this Saturday and Sunday.
“I’m unbelievably excited to be back in the IndyCar Series with Panther Racing and to have the opportunity to drive the National Guard Chevrolet this weekend,” Briscoe said. “I’ve competed against this team for a long time and it will be great to have the opportunity to work with John Barnes and the Panther guys. I’m confident we’ll all work well together and be able to hit the ground running this weekend in Detroit.”
Briscoe ran full-time with Penske Racing the last five seasons racking up seven wins before becoming ride less and moving to Level 5 Motorsports in the American Le Mans Series in 2013. The Australian signed with Chip Ganassi to run the team's fourth entry at Indianapolis last weekend where he started 23rd finishing 12th. Additional races for Brisoce with Ganassi are possible, while if contract hurdles can be overcome, Servia will likely run the remainder of IndyCar schedule with Panther.