/ IZOD INDYcar SerIeS / JR HILDEBRAND
Hildebrand was running with the big boys at Iowa, qualifying and finishing fourth. (rIGHT) That ’ 66 chevelle SS – Jr’s dream car – was a token of the appreciation felt by John Barnes (INSe T, right) and the whole Panther team.
considered. Hildebrand has gotten results in his rookie season
without the benefit of a teammate, and he’s accomplished
much of it while injured. Surgery to repair a torn ACL and
meniscus in his left knee awaits at season’s end, the result of
an injury sustained before the June event at Texas Motor
Speedway. Meanwhile, Panther still pursues funding to add
an experienced teammate to the team’s roster.
“It’s definitely a double-edged sword,” Hildebrand says.
“Where is the speed coming from? Is it me? The less
information you have to point you in the right direction, the
harder it is to figure that out. Especially when it comes to road
courses, that’s a tough thing to overcome. There’s no doubt in
my mind that I’d perform at a higher level if I had more data.
“But what’s good about the situation is that it adds an
accountability factor to everything that’s going on. Everybody
on the team is willing to take responsibility for what
happens. Just because you don’t have enough information
doesn’t mean you can point fingers. It’s a subjective situation.
As for the injury, that’s more severe than originally
“There’s no doubt in
thought. Had the Motegi race in September been canceled
my mind I’d perform
at a higher level if
I had more data”
because of the Japan earthquake,
Hildebrand would have used that time
for surgery. Instead, he’ll tough it out.
“He would have done a lot better at
Milwaukee and Texas if he hadn’t had
the leg issue,” Barnes says. “The brace
he had to wear was obstructive. He
literally had to wedge himself into the
car. But once he got past that, he
worked with trainers and got to where
he could tape the leg
and not use the brace.
That shows something
about him. He’s smiling through pain
at this point.”
After the 500, the concern about
Hildebrand was that one race and one
crash would define his career. While
certainly memorable and inescapable,
it’s hardly a definition. That will come
later, when he gets additional chances
to win the race again. The definition of
Hildebrand that emerges from Indy is
the one his team recognized with a
special gift. The kid is a pro.
“He’s wise beyond his years,” Cripps
states. “I’ve been going to Indy since 1990.
and had all the highs and lows, but if you’d
put a camera in front of me as quickly as
they did with JR after that crash, I don’t
think I’d have been able to handle it. It
was shocking for someone of JR’s age to
handle it. That was very impressive.”
Almost as impressive as what
he’s delivered since. Solid results,
consistency, speed and real
professionalism. It’s what earned him
a classic piece of chrome and steel – and
a love affair with his team.
“We’re over the moon about him,”
Barnes says. “He’s what we stand for.”
TWO (NEW) CARS CAN ONLY HELP
Panther wants another full-timer to help develop the new car
The new car is more than just a mystery
to Panther Racing. It’s a whodunnit.
The first official test of the 2012
Dallara was performed by former Panther driver
Dan Wheldon at Mid-Ohio in August, but the
details won’t be worked out for some time. And
time – or, more specifically, testing time – is of
“You probably know more about the new car
than I do,” Panther CEO John Barnes says. “We
don’t know much about it. We’re being kept in
the dark. By the time we get it and prepare to
run it, it will be the middle of January, and the
season will start in March.
“Even if the series opens up the rules
regarding testing, Father Time won’t be giving
Buddy rice helped Hildebrand at Indy. He could help test Panther’s new car, too.
us much of an opportunity at that point.”
By then, Panther hopes to have funding in
place for a second car, which would obviously
hasten the gathering of data. Buddy Rice is
expected to rejoin Panther in a second car at
Kentucky and Las Vegas later this season, but
it’s uncertain if he will be retained to assist with
off-season testing of the new car.
“It’s something we’re looking at carefully,”
Panther technical director David Cripps says.
“We’ve been trying to pursue a second car for
two years now. You want to put together a
package that would be equally competitive.”
But as Barnes asserted, even with two cars,
the challenges of gathering data in a short
period of time will be intimidating.
“It’s going to be a very, very steep learning
curve,” admits Cripps. “We’ll be able to be
involved in the anchor team’s testing, of course,
so that will help. We’ve been prepared for the
basics for quite some time, but having zero
knowledge of the car’s characteristics is going
to create a tremendous amount of work in a
short period of time.”