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Hildebrand Crashes Out Of His IndyCar Ride

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 31 2013

J.R. Hildebrand slides across the finish line at Indianapolis Motor Speedway at the end of the 2011 Indy 500. (File photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

J.R. Hildebrand crashed-out of the 2011 Indianapolis 500 as a rising IZOD IndyCar Series star. On Thursday, his latest Turn 4 wall-banger at Indianapolis Motor Speedway cost Hildebrand his job.

Panther Racing and Hildebrand announced “a mutual agreement” to immediately terminate the Californian’s contract, which was scheduled to continue through the end of the 2013 season. John Barnes, the Indianapolis-based team’s managing partner, subsequently announced that former series regular Ryan Briscoe will replace Hildebrand in the No. 4 National Guard Dallara/Chevrolet for the inaugural Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans beginning Friday afternoon on The Raceway at Belle Isle Park.

A seven-time IndyCar Series race-winner, Briscoe finished 12th in Sunday’s 97th Indianapolis 500 in a Chip Ganassi Racing Teams Dallara/Honda. Briscoe broke into the series with the Ganassi organization in 2005 and drove for Team Penske for most of the past five seasons.

“He’s a championship-caliber driver who’s proven he can win races on any type of track in the IndyCar Series,” Barnes said in a statement. “We have no doubt he can jump right into our program and put the No. 4 National Guard Chevy at the front of the field.”

Hildebrand spun and made contact with the Turn 4 SAFER Barrier on Lap 4 of last Sunday’s Indy 500, resulting in a 33rd and last-place finish. He had qualified 10th.

Panther Racing did not announce a driver for series events over the next four weekends. Following the doubleheader weekend in Detroit, the series will compete in the annual Firestone 550k night race on the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway quadoval in Fort Worth on Saturday, June 8.

The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion, Hildebrand made 37 of his 39 IndyCar Series starts with Panther

Ryan Briscoe, who won the pole for Penske at Indy a year ago, has been hired by Panther Racing. (INDYCAR/LAT USA)

Racing. Ironically, the highlight of his career to-date was his crash/second-place finish in the 2011 Indy 500. Competing as a rookie, Hildebrand was leading “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on the last lap when he crashed in Turn 4 of the 2.5-mile IMS oval, opening the door for Dan Wheldon to win his second Indy 500.

Hildebrand went on to finish 14th in the final 2011 point standings but slipped to 19th in 2012, when he recorded fifth-place finishes on the Streets of Long Beach and at TMS.

“I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity to drive the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet,” Hildebrand, a 25-year-old native of Sausalito, Calif., said in a statement. “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.”

Briscoe’s seven victories have been spread across multiple track configurations: St. Petersburg, Fla., street course, 2009; Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, 2008; Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway, 2012, road-course; The Milwaukee Mile, 2008, short oval; Kentucky Speedway and Chicagoland Speedway, 2009 and TMS, 2010.

Briscoe has earned 13 IndyCar Series pole awards, including the 2012 Indianapolis 500.

“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,” said Briscoe, 31, a native of Australia. “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.”

INDYCAR announced that qualifications for the second races at Belle Isle, the Streets of Toronto (July 13-14) and Reliant Park in Houston (Oct. 5-6) will be split into two groups.

All cars will participate in one of two groups for 12 minutes each, with five minutes of guaranteed green-flag time. INDYCAR amended Rule 8.3.9.1, which had called for a 30-minute, all-car qualifying session.

Procedures for determining the starting lineup for Race 2 have been updated as such:

_ Pole position will be awarded to the best overall lap time in the Race 2 qualifying sessions. The remainder of the cars from the pole-sitter’s qualifying group will occupy the odd-numbered positions on the starting grid, ranked by lap time, beginning with third.

_ Even-numbered starting positions will be filled by the other group, ranked by lap time, starting with second.

_ One point will be awarded to entrant and driver with the fastest time in each qualifying group.

In accordance with Rule 8.3.2.2 of the IZOD IndyCar Series rulebook, qualifying groups will continue to be determined by the combined times posted by entries during the practice session a day earlier. Group 1 will consist of odd-numbered positions on the practice time sheet, while even-numbered positions will comprise Group 2.

Qualifications for Race 1 will follow the regular three-round format, including the Firestone Fast Six, for road and street circuits.

“Splitting qualifications for the second race will give a premium to the amount of track time available to each competitor,” said Beaux Barfield, race director, IZOD IndyCar Series. “It will improve the ability for competitors to get a clean lap and post a true lap time.”

Both races in Detroit will be televised live at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) by ABC and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211 and www.indycar.com. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is The Milwaukee 100 on Saturday, June 15, at The Milwaukee Mile in West Allis, Wis. The race will be broadcast by NBC Sports Network at 3 p.m. (EDT) on June 15.

Tony Kanaan is anticipating the first time he is introduced as 2013 Indy 500 champion this weekend during the Chevrolet Indy Dual in Detroit.

“It’s going to sound good,” Kanaan said during a promotional appearance in Fort Worth in advance of the

Tony Kanaan is the 2013 winner of the Indianapolis 500. (Photo courtesy of the IZOD IndyCar Series)

Firestone 550k night race at TMS on June 8. “I might ask the PA guy, ‘Can you repeat that again?’ Honestly, and in a very selfish way, I’m going to feel very proud of myself. It’s something that I’ve been very fortunate in my career to achieve a lot of things. As a race car driver, if you ask a guy what does he want to win _ it’s a championship (2004) and the Indy 500, and I’ve won both. So now hopefully we’ll get addicted to it.”

But the popular Brazilian isn’t convinced the doubleheader format will work without a hitch. The event is the first of three doubleheaders on the 2013 schedule. Drivers will run 70-lap races Saturday and Sunday on the 2.36-mile/13-turn temporary street circuit. In addition, SONAX will offer a $50,000 bonus to any driver who can win both races through the SONAX Perfect Finish Award.

“I’m concerned,” said Kanaan, driver of the No. 11 Hydroxycut Dallara/Chevrolet fielded by KV Racing Technology. “IndyCar races are extremely physical, especially in a place like Detroit. It’s going to be a tough weekend on us. Thank God I prepare myself physically; with my training regimen I think we’ll be OK. But it is a big concern. I think it’s going to be hard on the equipment, hard on the mechanics and on us as well.”

Frenchman Simon Pagenaud, who finished eighth at IMS, noted another factor that will play into the unique format. “The biggest thing is if you crash in qualifying, then you can’t really go racing,” said Pagenaud, driver of the No. 77 Schmidt Hamilton HP Motorsports Dallara/Honda. “It’s going to be very important to take as much risk as possible without crashing the car because that would be quite dramatic on the event itself.

“I’m looking forward to it. There’s a lot of points available, obviously. Detroit is a racetrack I really enjoy being at, driving on. So, yeah, it should be an interesting weekend. But the approach, it’s still to attack as much as possible, because that’s what everybody is going to do.”

INDYCAR staged a single-day “doubleheader” at Texas Motor Speedway in June 2011. “We split it and so basically it was half the laps, we stopped and we had the other half,” Kanaan said. “There is going to be two full race-lengths (in Detroit), which if I’m able to speak on Sunday, I’ll let you guys know.”

Mike Conway has joined Dale Coyne Racing in Detroit this weekend. Conway, who last drove at Long Beach in April for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (started fifth/retired with electrical issue), will drive the Honda-powered No. 18 Dallara in the 25-car field.

“I’m very thankful for this opportunity with Dale and look forward to having a race weekend where I will have two chances to race with my fellow competitors,” said Conway, who started 15th and finished ninth at Belle Isle last year in an A.J. Foyt Racing Dallara/Honda. “I miss being in the car fulltime, and teaming with Justin (Wilson) again will be quite exciting for me.”

Conway and Wilson, who finished third at Long Beach and is coming off a fifth-place finish in the Indianapolis 500, were teammates at Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2010.

The No. 18 car had been driven in the first five races of the season by Ana Beatriz, who was the biggest mover in the Indianapolis 500 by advancing 14 positions to finish 15th. Team owner Dale Coyne said the team is looking at several combinations for its summer and fall races.

“First, I want to say what a great job Bia has done in the No. 18 car,” Coyne said. “I think it was beneficial to run concurrent races with Bia where she could truly show her competitiveness as she did in Brazil and Indy. We are also excited to have a street-course racer like Mike Conway join our efforts. Mike has shown over the years how competitive he can be on all types of circuits and we look forward to having our all-English team go at it at Belle Isle.”

Conway, who will make his 55th and 56th IndyCar Series starts in the inaugural series doubleheader, won the 2011 Long Beach street race. He has 13 top-10 finishes over his IndyCar Series career.

Consistency has paved Marco Andretti’s climb to the top of the championship standings for Andretti Autosport _ top-seven finishes, including podiums on two street courses, in each of the first five races. Andretti leads Takuma Sato of A.J. Foyt Racing by 11 points and Team Penske’s Helio Castroneves by 16. “It’s great to head to Belle Isle with the points lead. We need to keep the momentum going with consistency,” said Andretti, who advanced from 22nd to finish 11th at Belle Isle last year.

Belle Isle pit stops: Four drivers face grid penalties for the first Detroit race _Dario Franchitti, Charlie Kimball, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal will incur 10-grid spot penalties because of unapproved engine changes at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. …

Tony Kanaan is poised to make his 202nd and 203rd consecutive starts at Belle Isle. Jimmy Vasser, co-owner of Kanaan’s car at KV Racing Technology, holds the record of 211. Scott Dixon (143 starts), and Marco Andretti (119) are the only other active drivers with more than 100 consecutive starts. …

With his next victory, either Dario Franchitti or Sebastien Bourdais will move into sole possession of seventh place on the all-time wins list. Franchitti and Bourdais are tied with Paul Tracy at 31 wins. …

With a victory in 2013, Scott Dixon will extend his streak of consecutive seasons with at least one victory to nine. His next victory also will move Dixon into sole possession of ninth place on the all-time list. Dixon won his 29th career race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on Aug. 5, 2012, tying former Team Penske star Rick Mears for 10thplace on the all-time list. …

This weekend’s races will be the fourth and fifth IndyCar Series events run at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park. Previous Detroit winners entered include Dario Franchitti (1999), Helio Castroneves (2000-01), Tony Kanaan (2007), Justin Wilson (2008) and Scott Dixon (2012). These will be the 14th and 15th Indy car races at Belle Isle and the 17th and 18th Indy car events held in “The Motor City.” A 2.5-mile street circuit hosted the Championship Auto Racing Teams from 1989-1991. …

The driver who has gone on to win the championship has won at Detroit three times: Alex Zanardi in 1998 and Bobby Rahal in 1992, both at Belle Isle, and Emerson Fittipaldi in Downtown Detroit in 1989. … Since 1993, seven drivers have won the season’s sixth race and the title: Dario Franchitti (2011, Texas-1; 2010, Indianapolis); Sebastien Bourdais (2004, Streets of Toronto); Scott Dixon (2003, Pikes Peak (Colo.); Cristiano da Matta (2002, Portland, Ore.), Alex Zanardi (1998, Gateway International Raceway, Madison, Ill.), Jimmy Vasser (1996, Michigan International Speedway) and Jacques Villeneuve (1995, Indianapolis).

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

John Sturbin | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Friday, May 31 2013
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