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IndyCar Season Preview: J.R. Hildebrand

Photo credit: Ned Leone

#4 National Guard Dallara-Chevrolet, Panther Racing

Born: January 3, 1988

Home: Sausalito, California

2011 HIGHLIGHTS: Hildebrand finally secured a full-time IndyCar ride after winning the 2009 Indy Lights title and making limited appearances for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2010. As per a recent Panther Racing tradition, he finished second at Indianapolis.

2011 LOWLIGHTS: That second-place at Indy came after leading much of the last lap of the race and crashing after badly misjudging the final corner. The late Dan Wheldon, from whom Hildebrand inherited his ride, took the victory. Hildebrand also dropped off in points at the end of the season, falling to 14th and losing Rookie of the Year honors to James Hinchcliffe.

SEASON OUTLOOK: Another year of maturity should help Hildebrand become one of the top 10 drivers in IndyCar in 2012. Many of Panther Racing’s glory years came with Chevrolet power, meaning that the nostalgic reunification of the team and engine manufacturer could lead to some good mojo. Most of the team will also remain intact.

Indianapolis is no problem for this team, and thus won’t be for Hildebrand. The biggest question is whether or not Hildebrand can post more consistently solid finishes. He only crashed out of three events, but five of his last six races saw finishes of 19th or worse. He did, however, show some potential on road courses, which have never been a strength of Panther’s.

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