Panther To Bring Back Hildebrand

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 17 2011

JR Hildebrand slides across the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of the 2011 500. (Photos courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Star-crossed JR Hildebrand – whose rookie IZOD IndyCar Series season featured an infamous crash and “battle scar” in the Indianapolis 500 and a less-publicized knee injury suffered during a media event in Texas – will continue to drive Panther Racing’s No. 4 National Guard entry in 2012 and 2013.

“I’m super-stoked that I’m going to be back at Panther for the next two years,” Hildebrand, 23, said in a news release. “It was a crazy year for us, but we had some really strong runs and I enjoyed being a part of this team.” Hildebrand recorded two top-five and five top-10 finishes in 18 starts, including a runnerup finish to Dan Wheldon in the 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500.

Indianapolis-based Panther announced it had exercised its two-year option with Hildebrand, the reigning Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, on Wednesday.

“We’re happy that we’re able to keep JR in the No. 4 car for the next two years,” said John Barnes, Panther Racing’s managing partner/CEO. “We signed him last year with every intention that he would be in the No. 4 car for the foreseeable future and he proved both inside and outside the race car that he was a perfect fit for this team and what we represent.”

Hildebrand made national headlines on May 29 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, when his crash in Turn 4 on the 200th and final lap of the Indy 500 opened the door for Wheldon’s improbable victory. Driving in what was then a one-off appearance for Bryan Herta Autosport, Wheldon scored his second Indy 500 victory – five months before suffering fatal injuries in a multiple-car crash during the season-ender at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on Oct. 16.

Ironically, Hildebrand was signed by Barnes in December 2010 as Wheldon’s replacement following a tumultuous two-year stint with the Englishman.

On June 8, Hildebrand tore the ACL in his left knee during a media event promoting the inaugural Firestone Twin 275s at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Hildebrand was competing against rival Ryan Briscoe in a “Driven by Fitness” promotion featuring a “boot camp-style obstacle course” when he bumped his left knee on the top board of a two-foot high wooden hurdle. Hildebrand’s knee broke the top board upon contact, and he stumbled to the ground on a grassy lot outside the Lone Star Tower condominiums. Despite the injury, Hildebrand finished 23rd and 18th in the unique doubleheader.

Two weeks later, Hildebrand recorded his best career qualification effort (fourth) at Iowa Speedway. In September, he broke a bone in his hand during an incident in the inaugural Streets of Baltimore event, only to respond in the following race with a seventh-place result on the road-course at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan. Hildebrand also suffered a bruised sternum and a concussion in the tragic crash at LVMS.

“The true test of any athlete is how they handle adversity, and I couldn’t be more impressed with how (Hildebrand) handled himself during the course of this season,” Barnes said. “Everybody at Panther has learned a lot from the soldiers in the National Guard, and it’s great to see how well Hildebrand represented all those soldiers. We’ve all got our work cut out for us for next season, and we’re very pleased that JR is going to be a part of that.”

Hildebrand underwent successful knee surgery to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament on Oct. 27 at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis.

“While it didn’t have a big affect on what I was doing inside the race car, and I had a lot of help from people to make sure it didn’t, it definitely had an impact on my training outside of the car,” Hildebrand said of the injury. “Training is a big part of my daily routine, and my sanity in some ways, so I’m excited about getting going with my rehab and to get back in the training mode.” Hildebrand is scheduled to test the 2012 Dallara chassis with Chevrolet power in early December.

A native of Sausalito, Calif., Hildebrand signed with Panther Racing in December after a two-day driver evaluation test at Phoenix International Raceway. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Hildebrand made two IndyCar Series starts with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing during the 2010 season.

“I worked really well with my engineer, David Cripps, this season and I know everybody is already working really hard on improving for 2012,” Hildebrand said. “And I’m especially excited to be able to continue to work with the National Guard; that was a special opportunity and it was a very educational experience for me. To see the sacrifices these soldiers make and to realize that they’ve entrusted us to tell their stories and represent them is an honor for all of us.

“Everybody at Panther is excited about getting started on next year, and especially looking forward to getting back to the Indianapolis 500 so we can avenge our battle scar.”

A first-time winner in 2011, Ed Carpenter plans to compete in the full IZOD IndyCar Series in 2012 –

Ed Carpenter has a new boss; Ed Carpenter. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

driving for Ed Carpenter Racing. The team is owned and operated by Carpenter and his stepfather, Tony George, Indy Racing League founder who also launched Vision Racing in 2005. Carpenter, who has 113 IndyCar Series starts, drove for Vision Racing for five seasons.

“I am extremely excited about the opportunities that lie ahead with Ed Carpenter Racing,” said the driver who won his first series race at Kentucky Speedway on Oct. 2. “Team ownership is something that I have thought about for quite a long time, and is now becoming a reality as a result of a great relationship with Fuzzy (Zoeller) and Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka.

“I don’t know that I ever thought that I would have the opportunity to be an owner/driver, but when an opportunity like this comes along you can’t pass it up. I can’t wait to get to work and begin building this team for not only 2012, but beyond.”

Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka, which sponsored Carpenter’s car in 2010 when he raced with Panther Racing, will be primary sponsor of Ed Carpenter Racing as part of a three-year commitment. The company served as Carpenter’s helmet sponsor in 2011 in addition to sponsoring a car from Panther Racing driven by Buddy Rice for the Indianapolis 500.

Carpenter, 30, began his IndyCar career in 2003 with PDM Racing after competing in Firestone Indy Lights. He also has driven for Red Bull Cheever Racing, Vision Racing, Panther Racing and 10 races this season with Sarah Fisher Racing. He has one pole (Kentucky 2010) and 29 top-10 finishes.

Charlie Kimball, the first type 1 diabetic to compete in the IZOD IndyCar Series, will continue to drive and raise awareness of the disease with the help of primary sponsor Novo Nordisk.

A world leader in diabetes care, Novo Nordisk announced a multi-year extension as primary sponsor of the No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara/Honda driven by the 26-year-old Kimball. Coincidentally, November is Diabetes Awareness Month.

Kimball, of Camarillo, Calif., is the first licensed driver with type 1 diabetes to compete in the IndyCar Series. Diagnosed in 2007, he monitors his blood sugar before, during and after each race. Kimball utilizes the Novo Nordisk insulin Levemir and NovoLog to help manage his diabetes, administering it with a prefilled insulin pen device called FlexPen.

“After an exciting first year, we are extremely proud to continue our partnership with Charlie Kimball and Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing,” said Camille Lee, corporate vice president, Diabetes Marketing at Novo Nordisk. “This team represents a unique opportunity for us, as a pharmaceutical company, to raise disease awareness on a broader scale and show everyone that diabetes doesn’t need to slow you down.”

Following two years of sponsorship of Kimball in Firestone Indy Lights, Novo Nordisk partnered with Chip Ganassi Racing to form Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing and in December 2010 became title sponsor of Kimball in his rookie IndyCar season. Kimball posted two top-10 finishes in 2011 and finished 13th in his Indianapolis 500 debut.

“My partnership with Novo Nordisk is very unique because they make the insulins I take every day and they produce the delivery device I use to manage my diabetes,” Kimball said. “I am fortunate to have Novo Nordisk and Chip Ganassi Racing support me in my career and I am proud and honored to be associated with these two outstanding organizations.”

Novo Nordisk has been actively involved in providing information about diabetes awareness at INDYCAR events through the “Drive the Switch” program and the “Race with Insulin” campaign.

“It speaks volumes that a company like Novo Nordisk is making this type of long-term commitment to our team, to Charlie, and the IndyCar Series,” team-owner Chip Ganassi said. “Charlie has done everything that we have asked of him on the track and we certainly feel his future is bright. As for Novo, they have been a tremendous partner both on and off the track.”

Team Penske drivers Will Power and Helio Castroneves will help launch ticket sales for the return of the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix on Nov. 22. The drivers will be on-site at the Grand Prix office in downtown Detroit to field calls from ticket buyers.

Tickets will go on sale to the public with the promise that prices will remain the same as they were for the most recent open-wheel event in Detroit in 2008.

“In both 2007 and 2008 the Grand Prix welcomed over 100,000 fans to Detroit over the course of the three-day weekend,” said Bud Denker, event chairman. “This is a great event for the Motor City and all of southeast Michigan. Our region has been through some difficult times the past few years and we are excited to keep ticket prices the same as they were four years ago.”

World-class racing will return to the Motor City June 1-3, 2012 through the streets of Belle Isle Park. Teams from the IndyCar Series, GRAND-AM Rolex Sports Car Series, Pirelli World Challenge Championship Series and Firestone Indy Lights Series will compete on a 2.1-mile road-course.

Tickets can be purchased by calling 1-866-464-PRIX (7749), by visiting the Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix office located in Suite 2311, above the Wintergarden in the GM Renaissance Center in downtown Detroit or online at www.DetroitGP.com beginning Nov. 22.

USAC short-track star Bryan Clauson will get another season as an INDYCAR racer. Clauson clinched his second USAC National Drivers Championship – and the accompanying scholarship to compete in Firestone Indy Lights – with a sixth-place finish in the USAC Sprint Car race at Giant Chevrolet Kings Speedway in Hanford, Calif.

“It was a busy year with a lot of ups and downs, and to lock down and get the job done late in the year to put this thing away was just awesome,” said Clauson, a 22-year-old native of Noblesville, Ind. “I couldn’t have done it without my great car owners, Tony Stewart, Mike Curb, and Corey Tucker or all the great crew guys that I get to work with.”

Clauson will try to become the first driver since Arizonan Billy Boat to win three consecutive Turkey Night Grand Prixs at Irwindale, Calif., later this month, as well as lock up his second consecutive USAC Midget title. He will receive a $40,000 prize and his INDYCAR scholarship for winning the National Drivers Championship during USAC’s “Night of Champions” Banquet on Dec. 9 in Indianapolis.

Until then, Clauson will work with INDYCAR officials to determine how best to utilize the scholarship for 2012. “I’m really excited about moving forward on the Indy Car side of things,” Clauson said. “We had already been hard at work trying to put something together without the scholarship and had some great meetings, so I feel like the scholarship will only help solidify whatever program we put together.

“As far as a direction for where I’ll land for sure, I think it’s too early. Obviously I have an idea of where I’d like to land, but there are a lot of people involved in the scholarship program that we need to make sure we take care of. When I get home from this West Coast swing after Turkey Night, you can be sure that I will be back hard at work to put a solid program together, whether it ends up being on the Lights side or the IZOD IndyCar side.”

– John Sturbin can be reached at jsturbin@racintoday.com

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, November 17 2011
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