Hildebrand, Panther Take Momentum into Sao Paulo IndyCar Weekend

Story posted - May 02 2013 11:00 PM

After Top Five in Long Beach, National Guard Panther Team Looks for Another Strong Finish

SAO PAULO, Brazil (May 2, 2013) - After a strong showing in Long Beach, Panther Racing and driver JR Hildebrand hope to keep the team's momentum going at this weekend's Sao Paulo Indy 300. The 2.536-mile, 11-turn temporary street course through downtown Sao Paulo has treated the National Guard Panther Racing team well in the past, with the team collecting Top Ten finishes in all of its three starts. The 2011 race at Sao Paulo was also the site of Hildebrand's first career IndyCar Series Top Ten finish, and the Californian is looking to improve upon his seventh-place result there last season.

Hildebrand Throws Out First Pitch at Tigers Game During Detroit Media Tour:
Before heading to South America this week National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand spent Monday and Tuesday covering the Detroit media landscape promoting the upcoming Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix. The highlight of the trip for Hildebrand was throwing out the first pitch at Comerica Park prior to the game between the Tigers and the Minnesota Twins. Hildebrand, who was a successful high school baseball player, was allowed to throw from the top of the pitcher's mound - a rarity for the ceremonial first pitch - and fired a strike, to the cheers of fans in attendance.

"I took a little off of (the throw), but I painted a strike on the outside corner," Hildebrand said. "I thought it was cool they let me go up on the mound because most of the time when you throw out the first pitch you can't go up there."

Prior to the game Hildebrand was able to meet reigning Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera and, one of his favorite players in the game, pitcher Justin Verlander. Hildebrand and Verlander exchanged jerseys before the game, and JR was surprised to hear that the former league MVP and Cy Young Award winner bought a ticket and attended the recent IndyCar race in Long Beach.

"It's always cool to get to meet those guys, and I was surprised because both of them totally knew what IndyCar was all about," JR continued. "Cabrera was asking about EJ Viso and Verlander knows James Jakes because they both spend the offseason in Orlando (Fla.), and he actually just bought a ticket and went to the Long Beach race because they were in town to play the Angels."

Hildebrand attempted to conceal his love of his hometown San Francisco Giants while a guest of the Tigers, but he couldn't help but recall that less than a year ago he attended two World Series games at Comerica Park, where he watched the Giants take the championship away from the National League champion Tigers.

"I enjoy the city and the ballpark here is awesome," Hildebrand said. "Considering we were cheering for the opposing team when we were up here last year, I felt like the Tigers fans were all super cool and treated us with a lot of respect. But, yeah, being able to watch my hometown San Francisco Giants close out the World Series here last year is such a great memory."

RACE REWIND: 2012 Results in Brazil:
After a qualifying lap with a fast time of 1:22.4321 seconds and an average speed of 110.753 mph, Hildebrand started the 2012 Sao Paulo Indy 300 in 14th position. Hildebrand was up to eighth place by the second caution period on Lap 27, and the team had Hildebrand duck into the pits for his second pit stop a few laps later during another caution period. Hildebrand was running fourth when he was finally called to pit lane on Lap 54 for his final stop of the race. During a caution on Lap 63, Hildebrand was back up to eighth position and gained another spot on the Lap 67 restart when Conway was involved in an eight-car pileup that Hildebrand narrowly avoided. Hildebrand was able to hold his position during the following five-lap shoot out to finish seventh.

Additional notes on Panther at Brazil:
* Panther Racing has finished in the Top Ten at Sao Paulo in each of its three starts: 2010, Dan Wheldon (5th); 2011, JR Hildebrand (10th); 2012, Hildebrand (7th).
* Panther Racing and its drivers have completed every possible lap in three starts in Sao Paulo (191 of a possible 191 laps)
* The team's best qualification effort in Sao Paulo was Hildebrand's 14th-place start in 2012.
* Hildebrand's 2011 10th-place finish in Sao Paulo was his first career IndyCar Series Top Ten finish.

Interactive Magazine Highlights "Operation: Hire Our Guard" Long Beach Program:
At each domestic IndyCar Series event Panther hosts its "Operation: Hire Our Guard" employment program to help fight the unemployment issue facing National Guard Soldiers. For a look back on Panther's program on race morning of the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, check out the team's interactive magazine from Long Beach: http://panther.interactmag.com/35/Toyota-Grand-Prix-of-Long-Beach/

Operation: Hire Our Guard is a Panther Racing initiative to raise awareness and educate business leaders around the country about the increasing unemployment crisis facing our National Guard, with the ultimate goal of making the connections necessary between the military and business leaders to secure quality employment for National Guard Soldiers. Last year our events provided Veterans exposure to approximately 9,300 job opportunities and based on a conservative approach, potentially over 4,300 Guardsmen have been employed as a result of our program. While our employment program is a small dent in the 65,000 estimated unemployed Guardsmen, our efforts will increase in 2013 as our partnerships and program grow.

JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet:
"We're excited to head down to Sao Paulo this weekend. We were finally able to turn things around last week at Long Beach and we've been pretty good at Brazil in the past. The biggest thing for us is that we were able to correct some things before the St. Pete race that really helped our pace. So we've been legitimately fast and we have a grasp of what we've done to make us fast, so that will be a big help for us this weekend in Brazil."

Broadcast Info:
The Sao Paulo Indy 300 will be broadcast live May 5th on NBC Sports Network at 11:00 am (ET), with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM/Sirius Channel 211. Practice, qualifying and race coverage is also available on the IndyCar Mobile app from Verizon.

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