By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
Years in IndyCar: 7
Laps led: 80
2016 Team: Ed Carpenter Racing (part time)
2017 Team: Ed Carpenter Racing (full time)
Persistence and resilience have led to a return to a full-time Verizon IndyCar Series ride for JR Hildebrand.
Hildebrand has served the de facto test driver for Ed Carpenter Racing along with racing at the previous three Indianapolis 500s and the previous two IndyCar Grand Prixs on the Speedway’s road course.
With the departure of Josef Newgarden to Team Penske, it opened the door for the 2009 Indy Lights champion to return to full-time competition.
The 29-year-old from Sausalito, California is best known for his last lap last corner crash in the 2011 Indianapolis 500 which saw him fall from the lead to second place, handing Dan Wheldon his final IndyCar win.
Since that race, Hildebrand was fired from Panther Racing after finishing last in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and has been a journeyman driver for the better part of the last three and a half years.
When Josef Newgarden was injured at the Texas Motor Speedway on June 12, Hildebrand was set to fill in if needed. While Newgarden ultimately didn’t need a substitute driver, Hildebrand’s testing time at the Iowa Speedway paid dividends.
Newgarden won the Iowa Corn 300 in dominating fashion – leading 282 of 300 laps. He credited Hildebrand for finding a setup that worked.
“I have to give a shout out to JR Hildebrand,” Newgarden said after winning the race. “He made it that much better. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to test. But JR, I don’t think we realize how lucky we are to have someone like him at our disposal whenever we need it.”
Given how well he has done in testing for the team, there is a reason to be excited about his IndyCar return.
He will have former Audi LMP1 engineer Justin Taylor on his pit box, replacing Jeremy Milless.
His full-time duties in the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet got off to a good start at the Prix-View Test at Phoenix last weekend. Hildebrand was near the top of the timesheets but hit the wall with less than 30 minutes to go after making contact with Will Power.