National Guard Panther Racing Team Moves to Second Round of Qualifications for First Time in 2013

LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 20, 2013) – National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand advanced to the second round of qualifications Saturday on the Streets of Long Beach and will start tomorrow’s Grand Prix of Long Beach in the 12th position. It was the first time Hildebrand advanced in qualifications since Mid-Ohio last year, and the 12th-place qualification effort will be Panther’s best start of the young 2013 IndyCar Series season.

The first round of qualifications was an adventurous one for Panther. Hildebrand was amidst a lap that was good enough to advance late in the session, when a red flag was thrown for a crash involving Scott Dixon – erasing Hildebrand’s lap, which left Panther out of the second round. However, once the session concluded Andretti Autosport driver Marco Andretti was penalized for blocking Hildebrand, moving Hildebrand up to sixth position on the grid in the first round, which enabled the Californian to advance.

"It was pretty stress-free for us, and I went out and the National Guard Chevy felt like I thought it would right away and we were able to bang some good laps together,” JR explained. “That first session was kind of a cluster, so we got a little help, but I was on a lap that was good enough to transfer and had been on a good lap previous to that and got blocked.”

In the second round, Hildebrand posted a top lap of 104.511 mph, 1:07.7902 seconds. He was on a quicker lap late in the session but over-shot Turn One and had to run through the shortcut, which left him in the 12th overall position.

“Once we were in the second round I put in a lap, felt pretty good, and knew there were a couple more tenths out there, but I broke too late going into Turn One and screwed the lap and that screwed up the second lap,” Hildebrand admitted. “That was frustrating, but we’ve been making some gains here this weekend and the team has been working really well together and it’s nice to be able to catch a break in one of these qualification sessions.”

Hildebrand started 20th last year, but drove his way into a Top Five finish. He’ll have a better view of the green flag in 2013.

“I’m very confident with the car that we’ve got and that we’ll have a good racecar like we did here last year,” Hildebrand continued. “We’re well set up to be able to run with the big boys at the front, which is what we’ve been saying all year; if we can start closer to the front we’ll stay there because our race pace has been good. Hopefully we get the change to prove that tomorrow.”

Panther’s Qualification History at Barber:
Sunday will mark Panther’s fifth start in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach and its third with Hildebrand. Panther has completed 340 of a possible 340 laps at Long Beach the past four years with Hildebrand and Dan Wheldon. Wheldon’s 10th-place qualification effort in 2010 was Panther’s best start at the popular street course and his 5th place finish in 2009 and Hildebrand fifth-place result last year marks the team’s best finishes here.
Panther Racing’s Qualification History at Barber:
•2012 – JR Hildebrand, qualified 20th (finished 5th, Running)
•2011 – JR Hildebrand, qualified 27th (finished 17th, Running)
•2010 – Dan Wheldon, qualified 10th (finished 9th, Running)
•2009 – Dan Wheldon, qualified 14th (finished 5th, Running)

Operation: Hire Our Guard Program at 11 am on Sunday in Long Beach:

This weekend at 11:00am on Sunday April 21st, 2013 Panther will conduct its “Operation: Hire Our Guard” program in the hospitality area at the Grand Prix of Long Beach. Special guests will include Medal of Honor recipients Drew Dix and Jay Vargas, CEO and Managing Partner John Barnes, and No. 4 National Guard driver JR Hildebrand.

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. Unemployment is the No. 1 issue facing returning and demobilizing National Guard members and their families. Overall unemployment is 13% - as high as 30% for Veterans between 18-30 – and, in total, there are currently 65,000 unemployed National Guard members. These goals will be accomplished through at-track programs during IndyCar Series race weekends, off-site and employer-outreach programs in states where IndyCar does not race and through nationwide promotional efforts

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.

Broadcast Info:
The Grand Prix of Long Beach will be broadcast live on Sunday, April 21st on NBC Sports Network at 4:00 pm (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.

www.JRHildebrandRacing.com - www.pantherracing.com - www.NationalGuard.com