By Christopher DeHarde, IndyCar & Road to Indy Writer
JR Hildebrand has had that word on his mind for three years now since getting unceremoniously dropped by Panther Racing after the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and now the Sausalito, CA native has his second chance as Ed Carpenter Racing announced today that Hildebrand will pilot the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet full time next year in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“Honestly, I just couldn’t be more ready to get started! I’ve been close to, but still outside of, this role for long enough to really understand and embrace the opportunity to be back in the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time,” Hildebrand said in a team release.
And embrace it he should.
As a rookie in IndyCar, Hildebrand nearly won the 2011 edition of the Indianapolis 500 in 2011 before hitting the wall coming off of the final corner and being passed by Dan Wheldon only a few hundred yards in front of the start/finish line.
His Panther Racing highlights included a pair of fifth place finishes at Long Beach, a fourth at Iowa and a fifth at Texas, but an early accident at the 2013 Indianapolis 500 combined with some less than ideal results led to Oriol Servia, Ryan Briscoe and Carlos Munoz splitting up the No. 4 car’s races in 2013.
Hildebrand drove for ECR at the Indianapolis 500 over the last three years, finishing 10th, 8th and 6th. He also has worked as a test driver for ECR, helping refine the setup that helped Josef Newgarden dominate the Iowa Corn Indy 300.
Prior to competing in IndyCar, Hildebrand had an impressive open wheel racing career built up. He was the 2006 USF2000 champion after a season in which he won 12 of 14 races (his other two finishes being a second and a 13th) and then won the Indy Lights championship in 2009 after scoring four wins and four runner-up finishes.
That led to him scoring a part time ride in 2010 with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing at Mid-Ohio and Sonoma, where Hildebrand ran the fastest lap of the race.