JR Hildebrand, known to most as the man that lost his chance to win the 2011 Indianapolis 500 (his first career running of the event) by making a mistake from the lead at the last possible moment, has officially been informed that his contract with Panther racing has been terminated. UPDATE: Ryan Briscoe will drive the #4 in both Detroit IndyCar races this weekend.
Hildebrand and Panther Racing had an extremely competitive first season together in 2011, and though the highlight was the second at Indianapolis, Hildebrand also went on to take a top 5 in Iowa and three other top 10s. He was edged out for Rookie-Of-The-Year honors by then Newman-Haas driver James Hinchcliffe, but easily bested his other competitors, most notably including Chip Ganassi Racing's Charlie Kimball.
With the many changes IndyCar faced in 2012, most notably the change from the Dallara IR05 chassis to the Dallara DW12 chassis, Panther Racing struggled to remain competitive. Despite an early season top 5 at Long Beach (and a midseason top 5 at Texas), Hildebrand and the John Barnes lead Panther operation struggled to find consistency and race leading pace. In the season finale at Fontana, Hildebrand finally lead laps and seemed the early favorite to win the race. However, as day turned to night, Hildebrand's 4 car disappeared from the lead pack and the season ended on the same note as it began: outside of the top 10.
Unfortunately for Hildebrand, things only got worse from there. In the St. Petersburg season opener, a bad day turned worse when, distracted by making an adjustment under caution, he drove over the rear tires of Will Power and ended his day in as embarrassing a fashion as possible. A month later at Long Beach he put in his fifth career top 5, again at Long Beach, but it failed to overcome two more unimpressive races in Brazil and Alabama. Hildebrand was not impressing coming in to the most important event of the season, the Indianapolis 500.
This was the final straw. Hildebrand seemed fairly competitive all month, including an impressive 10th in qualifying, but not 3 laps into the race, Hildebrand spun on his own.
Now, four days later, Hildebrand finds himself without an IndyCar ride for the remainder of 2013. The 2009 Firestone Indy Lights champion is left wondering what could be as his replacement will take on both of this weekend's events in Detroit in the 4 car.
Who that replacement will be is not yet decided, but Oriol Seriva is the logical choice. Servia drives for the team's satellite organization Panther DRR, which was put on hiatus starting this weekend due to lack of sponsorship and sits 10th in the championship standings, still within a clear shot of the championship. Contract concerns may keep him out of the car however, and if so former Penske Racing driver Ryan Briscoe is the obvious choice. A decision will be made later today before the track in Detroit opens for practice tomorrow.
UPDATED: Ryan Briscoe has been announced as the driver of the #4 for the Detroit weekend. He had one pole and one race win in 2012 with Penske Racing.