Panther Racing’s J.R. Hildebrand turned up the wick late in the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to claim fifth at the finish for his second consecutive Top-5 at the fabled street course. The American was the top Chevrolet-powered driver at the end of the afternoon following Honda’s lockdown of the top four positions with winner Takuma Sato, Graham Rahal, Justin Wilson and Dario Franchitti.
A strong pit stop on Lap 51 enabled Hildebrand to climb into ninth position and over the final stint, he gained multiple spots on the track until he raced into the Top 5 before the caution came out for a incident with two laps to go involving Panther DRR teammate Oriol Servia and Tony Kanaan.
“I’m really proud of the run we had and the pit crew guys did such an awesome job, because we made up three or four of those spots in the pits on our last stop,” said Hildebrand, who needed a good run following a bizarre DNF at St. Petersburg and a 17th place finish at Barber Motorsports Park.
“…I didn’t see [the Servia/Kanaan incident] because I’d let those guys go a little bit while we were saving to make sure we had enough fuel. I saw some tire smoke as I approached Turn 1 and was able to split through the middle. Really happy to get another Top 5 here for the second year in a row, but we’ll make sure we put the work in to make sure we’re ready to rock and roll next race. If we continue to make gains like we have we’ll be running up front with the big boys a lot more often.”
As for Servia, he was initially hit with a 30-second penalty by IndyCar for avoidable contact following the run-in with Kanaan. However, the series rescinded the call upon further review of the incident and the Spaniard was allowed to keep his sixth place result.