National Guard Team Ready for IndyCar Series Debut of New DW12 Chassis on St. Pete Streets
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – (March 9, 2012) – As the IZOD IndyCar Series gets set to kick off the season, Panther Racing anddriver JR Hildebrand are looking to improve on the Californian’s impressive rookie season beginning this weekend at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. After a series of successful preseason tests, Hildebrand, the Indy 500 Rookie of the Year, and Panther are looking forward to the season opener this weekend on the 14-turn, 1.8-mile course twists through the city streets of St. Petersburg.Panther Racing’s pre-race notes are posted below:
Chris Mower Promoted to General Manager of Panther Racing:
Panther Racing has promoted Chris Mower to the position of General Manager of the team’s IndyCar Series effort. Mower, formerly Team Manager since joining the team in 2008, has overseen the team’s racing operations for the past four seasons after moving to Panther from Conquest Racing. Previously, Mower spent two seasons with Team Lotus in 1992-1993 with drivers Johnny Herbert and Mika Hakkinen. During his time working in Europe, Mower helped earn F-3000 championships in 1991 with Christian Fittipaldi and again in 2001 with current IndyCar Series driver Justin Wilson.
“I’m very happy that JB and Jane (Barnes) trust me to do this job right and that they both have the faith in me to know I’m not going to let anybody down,” Mower said. “It gives me a great deal of confidence knowing they trust me, because my experience at Panther Racing has always been great. As a team I still don’t think we’re taken as seriously as we should be in IndyCar and I believe we can fight for that position – we’ve got a great core group that has been here a long time and we have an unbelievable partner in the National Guard. This team works really well together and we’re all on the same page. I’ve been on teams before where it doesn’t gel and that always leads to second-guessing of one another and I’m thankful that I always know all our guys are going to do their job. If I was given the chance to work anywhere in the paddock it would be right here at Panther, and I’m very happy to be a part of this team.”
As Panther’s involvement with the National Guard has expanded over the years, and with the team’s recent partnership with the White House and the US Chamber of Commerce’s Hiring Our Heroes initiative, Managing Partner and CEO John Barnes is devoting more of his time to the team’s partnerships and off-track initiatives.
Barnes worked together with Mower’s father Derek at Vel’s Parnelli Jones Racing and again at Bob Fletcher Racing over 30 years ago.
“I’ve had a long relationship with Chris and his family and he’s always done a great job for us,” Barnes said. “Chris is a guy with a lot of integrity and business smarts that comes from his experience running his Dad’s team in Europe, where he won a lot of races and championships. As I continue to spend more of my time with the National Guard and focused on our efforts this season to help fight the unemployment issues facing their Soldiers, it only made sense to continue to expand his role with the team. We’ve got a great group of people here and we feel like we’ve got the individuals in place to get Panther Racing back at the top of this series.”
Last Year: Panther at St. Petersburg, 2011:
Hildebrand competed in his first IZOD IndyCar Series race with the Panther team at last year’s Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, where he improved 13 positions during the race to finish in 11th position. The young rookie showed promise as he climbed into the Top Ten before being hit by Danica Patrick on the last lap of the race, which forced him into 12th position at the conclusion of the race. Patrick was penalized for avoidable contact following the incident, and Hildebrand was moved ahead of the former Andretti Autosport driver for his 11th-place finishing position.
Additional notes from last year’s race:
Hildebrand’s first start with Panther Racing and first IndyCar start in St. Pete. Qualified for the race in 24th position. Was running in tenth position when, on the final lap, Danica Patrick hit the rear of Hildebrand’s National Guard car, allowing both Danica and Justin Wilson to pass the No. 4 car. Patrick was penalized for avoidable contact; Hildebrand moved up a position ahead of Patrick to finish in 11th place. Climbed a total of 13 positions; Started 24th and finished 11th. Hildebrand was the highest finishing rookie driver. Highest in-race position was 10th. Hildebrand’s 11th place finish was Panther Racing’s highest finish in St. Petersburg since Vitor Meira finished fifth in 2006.
SGT Christopher O. Campbell Named Panther’s St. Pete Hometown Hero:
Panther Racing has named SGT Christopher O. Campbell as its honorary Hometown Hero for the Grand Prix of St. Petersburgweekend. Panther began its Hometown Hero program in 2008 to help highlight an extraordinary Soldier from each respective state’s National Guard. Each hero participates in the IndyCar Series driver autograph session during the raceweekend and sits next to Hildebrand while signing a specialty-made hero card. The hero also takes an IndyCar Experience two-seater ride, is honored during an awards presentation in the team’s hospitality unit prior to the race and is also recognized on the pre-race stage in front of the crowd prior to the start of the race.
Additional notes on SGT Campbell:
Born in Tampa, Florida Enlisted in the Florida Army National Guard in July of 2008, and was a member of the Florida Honor Guard Team Was deployed to Kuwait with Alpha Company 53rd Brigade Support Battalion in 2010 in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom Was selected as the Noncommissioned Officer of the Year for his Battalion in 2011
Hildebrand Recovers Well from ACL Knee Surgery:
JR Hildebrand did a good job concealing the fact he drove more than half of the 2011 IndyCar Series season with a torn ACL in his left knee, an injury he suffered during a PR stunt at Texas Motor Speedway. And while he insists the injury had no impact on his performance last season, the self-described “fitness geek” and “adrenaline junkie” was more bothered by the injury in the training room than on the racetrack. Following surgery to repair the injury in October of 2011 by Dr. Don Shelbourne at Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis, Hildebrand is recovering nicely as he rehabs daily at St. Vincent Sports Performance, and continues to pick up his workout regimen to include running, biking and a lot of other workout activities he enjoyed prior to the injury. He even went snowmobiling and ice climbing during a recent trip to Vail, Colorado and is recovering nicely from the surgery.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet:
“I’m ready to rock and roll. St. Petersburg is always a great race, and the first turn alone is always pretty exciting – especially with the double-file restarts because you’re going from a huge airport runway down to a pretty tight right-hander. It’s a great place for us to start the season, St. Pete is a cool town and everybody down there really enjoys our racing. You also never knowwhat’s going to happen with the weather; sometimes it rains while we’re there and sometimes you get typical beautiful Florida weather. For me personally this year, just knowing what to expect going into the season is really helpful. I feel like we’ve had a really productive offseason and the development on the National Guard Chevrolet has gone well. It’s nice to be part of working with the Panther guys and the Chevy guys this offseason, and we’ve found the car to be really responsive to all the changes we’ve made during the testing. All our test days have been more effective than what we experienced last year, and we’re confident that’s going to translate for us a lot of places we go this season.”
The IZOD IndyCar Series Honda Grand Prix of St. Petersburg will be broadcast live on ABC at 12:30 p.m. (ET), with additional coverage provided by the IMS Radio Network, XM Channel 145 ad Sirius Channel 121.