BIRMINGHAM, AL (March 12, 2012) – A long IndyCar offseason is just a week away from its conclusion, as the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg is finally within sight. But before heading to south Florida to kick off 2013 a majority of IndyCar drivers and teams have converged on Barber Motorsports Park for one last final tune-up before things get real next weekend.

Before a single wheel was turned during Tuesday’s testing Barber hosted the annual IndyCar Series media day, where video rolled, cameras snapped and media members recorded the season outlook from all the drivers slated to participate this season.

National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand is entering his third year behind the wheel of the No. 4 car and the former Indy 500 Rookie of the Year is ready for a boost in his results this season, including making the move onto the race podium and – most importantly – victory lane.

The following is a transcript from Hildebrand’s appearance at IndyCar Media Day on Monday:

How much testing did you have this offseason?
“Very little we did a day at Sebring last year and did what turned out to be not much of a day unfortunately at Sonoma a couple of weeks ago.  We have the great fortune of working much more closely with Dreyer Reinbold Racing this year and Oriol Servia so for the days that we have had go awry he has had some good days.  Looking forward to getting here hopefully getting out on a dry track for a couple of days and more than anything really try to sort of solidify that relationship and transparency with Dreyer Reinbold Racing or Panther DRR as they are called now.  Last year it was something that happened midseason that we sort of joined together and I think because of that it wasn’t as streamlined of an operation as we all really needed for it to be.  I think there were a lot of times you could argue that it made things more complicated than really helped us figure anything out.  Having the off season to kind of iron those wrinkles out and with Tino Belli coming from Andretti Autosport as technical director to kind of oversee that whole element of the operation I think will be a pretty big gain going into this year.”

What caused the lack of test time during the Sonoma test?

“We had an electrical problem in the morning that just took a long time to figure out what exactly it was.  We thought it might be an engine issue, but it turned out not to be.  We got the car running again in the afternoon, but we just didn’t end up really doing many laps.  We did like 20 laps in the afternoon.”
What’s it like having Oriol Servia as a teammate?
“I think more than that necessarily I think he has always been in the top two or three guys on my list of guys that I want to have as a teammate.  Besides him actually being available as a guy that is kind of a teammate just because he always stands out as somebody that understands the value of working together with somebody.  Anytime he has been in a good car he runs up front.  I think the two of those things together just make him kind of an obvious guy to want as that sort of mentor or partner or whatever in racing.  It was fun to work with him last year.  I think we were both sort of frustrated by the whole thing not really being what we would have liked for it to be from a sort of engineering stand point.  This year it will truly operate as a two car team.  That is kind of an exciting thing for both of us.”
What are Panther Racing’s strengths this season?
“I think our strengths obviously at Panther our strengths have always been showing up to places like Indy and being fast.  I think that the confidence that we have going to places like that this year is only bolstered by the addition of another car and a new presence in the engineering department with Tino (Belli) coming from Andretti.  Those guys were quite fast at Indy last year.  That strength is something that is exciting for us.  I think in general there has been no reason to beat around the bush that the street courses in particular have been somewhere that we have struggled the last couple of year.  In our mind coming from Indy Lights those are the only races that I won were road/street courses.  I think at Panther we are focusing pretty heavily this year on debunking that sort of outlook that we are much stronger on ovals than we are on road/street courses.  That is certainly something that we are looking to change.”
Have you driven other cars this offseason?
“Yeah, I’ve actually driven a bunch of stuff that probably at the end of the day isn’t really that close to driving an indy car to be honest with you.  This is not totally public information yet, but I’m going to be racing a drift car for a couple of events this year.  So I’ve been doing a little bit of that with a couple of buddies of mine we are working with Chevrolet on an engine program for it.  We have been trying to build that out over the off season.  I drove one of the GRC (Global Rally Cross) cars that do the rally stuff.  I have driven a bunch of vintage race cars.  I drove some historic F1 cars and stuff like that.  That really was just to sort of stay sharp.  Those things are a hell of a lot bigger handful than driving an indy car is.  Been keeping busy, but it’s tough.  With last year we kind of got spoiled by having a lot of manufacturer test days available.  This year that didn’t exist.  I think that we certainly still feel like there is some work to be done before we show up at St. Pete next week and there will be some work to be done through the first part of the season.”
Do you guys and Panther DRR work out of the same building?
“The car is over there, but the engineering staff is all in the same building at Panther.”
Will your trailers be parked next to each other at the racetrack?
“Yes, so all the debriefs and all that stuff will be in the same place.”
Aside from Indianapolis, what races are you most looking forward to?
“I am really looking forward to the first few races of the season to be honest with you.  St. Pete was a race we ended up having a fuel pressure issue, but we were looking solid to finish fifth or sixth there last year.  I think that is somewhere now with a little bit of a new outlook on the set-up of the race car I can really have a teammate situation.  Those first few races going to St. Pete coming here (Barber) and going to Long Beach are places that we definitely look forward to.  I would say another one that sticks out is Pocono.  Just being a new track on the schedule I think that is going to be somewhere that I’m expecting that to be tougher depending on what the downforce package is that we end up running there. But if it’s like a sort of Texas style downforce package that place is going to be pretty ballsy if you want to go fast.  I’m all for having tracks that we are light on downforce and high on horsepower.  We just have to get the high on horsepower part sorted out here.”
What are your thoughts on standing starts?
“I really like standing starts and I think it adds another piece to the puzzle that is in the driver’s hands, so I think that is another interesting element to it.  That has little to nothing to do with your car set up and it’s just a lot about us because we won’t have any kind of real launch control or any of that.  You know, I can see where the series is hesitant to implement it everywhere that we go, but I think that there are a lot of tracks that it will work well on that we go.   It’s definitely an exciting way to get the race going because there is a certain kind of risk versus reward factor for getting it right versus screwing it up so I am looking forward to doing them wherever they start.”

Can you stall the car during a standing start?
“Oh yeah, you definitely could.   They have been working on the anti-stall for these things so that is something if they get that really working at a high level, then you probably won’t but yes, you can definitely stall the car for sure.”
Can you explain the clutch paddles you have now in the IndyCar?
“Yeah, so the car always has a left and right clutch paddle and the reason that is, is typically there are pit boxes like on an oval where you are turning left into the pit box that you need to be able to clutch on the way in or….actually it’s turning out of the pit box.  You need to be able to turn the wheel to the right and have the clutch engaged when the wheel is like this (gestures) and you wouldn’t be able to get to it when it’s on the other side. So it’s basically for having pit lanes in opposite directions.  You need to have a clutch on both sides to be able to turn the wheel one way, and can’t grab it on the right side, and turning the other way you can’t grab it on the left side.  But in Formula One it’s been tested with the Formula One car in 2009 and there are a lot of different things you can do because of the fact that you do have two clutches or clutch paddles that you can have one paddle like Dixon said at 30, 40, 20, 10, or 50 percent or whatever that is set at some piece of engagement. You can have the other one where the clutch is totally disengaged with the other clutch so that when the lights go out you can just dump the one clutch and not actually be fully engaging the clutch because you have got the other one somewhat part way.   So those are things you can definitely dial in and the engine manufacturers who I think will be working with the drivers and the teams to figure out how all that is going to work.  At the end of the day, every track is different, every grid position is going to be different and every track is going to be a little bit different so even if you can totally get it down to a science on pit lane, it’s going to be something totally different once you start the race.” 
Do you see that as a positive?
“Yes for sure.  And I think to your point really quickly about the stalling thing, the fact that the cars are turbo cars adds to the potential ability to end up stalling them.  Because if you do end up kind of bogging down….once the RPM goes down you have no boost and that is where a car that has a lot more torque like the old Indy cars, we never had any issues getting out of the pit box with those and going forward.  You just dump the clutch and go.  Whereas this year, particularly that this year was a lot on the ovals, you had to feed it in a little bit because you couldn’t get the revs to come up quickly enough to get the boost spooled up enough to just floor and dump the clutch.  You would just kind of stick right away and have the car (makes rev sound) kind of lurching out of the pit box so I think that is an added element that could become an issue.”