Hildebrand beats Panther in ‘messy’ race; Luhr comes up short of debut finish

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A subplot of the Sonoma weekend was the unofficial “JR Hildebrand vs. Panther Racing” battle that was taking place, even though Hildebrand downplayed it during his media availability on Friday.

To make things awkward, due to the order they had qualified with previous drivers Oriol Servia (Panther) and Luca Filippi (Barracuda Racing) at Mid-Ohio, the two teams were set up directly next to each other all weekend in the paddock and pit lane.

Hildebrand took the edge in both battles – he beat Panther’s Ryan Briscoe in qualifying, 18th to 22nd, and also in the race 16th to 17th. Not that either of those results is anything worth celebrating.

Hildebrand ran as high as 11th but was spun by Tony Kanaan on Lap 21 at Turn 7, and Kanaan was given a drive-through penalty for avoidable contact. Hildebrand recovered but had later contact with Graham Rahal, which dropped him back to 21st, before he made up five more positions by the flag.

“It was just a messy day out there,” Hildebrand said. “With that many yellows, it ends up being kind of a lottery where you actually end up on restarts because the risk/reward factor is quite high.”

Elsewhere, IndyCar debutante Lucas Luhr came up a few laps shy of a finish in the No. 97 RW/Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing Honda. The first German to start an IndyCar race since Andreas Wirth in a Champ Car race at Australia in 2006, Luhr climbed from 24th place to 17th before an engine fire ended his race on Lap 81.

“It was a shame that we couldn’t finish the race because I think we had a possible top 14 or 15 finish in us,” Luhr said. “Toward the end of the race I was getting quicker. I think we were more competitive in the race than we have been all weekend long, and that to me shows that the learning curve is going in the right direction.”

Next up for these three: Barracuda and Panther see Filippi and Servia back for Baltimore, with Hildebrand returning for Barracuda at Fontana. Luhr resumes in his usual Muscle Milk Pickett Racing HPD ARX-03c P1 car in the American Le Mans Series race in Baltimore. Briscoe is back for Level 5 there, as well.

FIA returns Manor’s F1 entry fee for 2017

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Good news: Manor Grand Prix Racing Limited got a refund of an entry fee it paid to the FIA to run in this year’s F1 season.

Bad news: Manor still hasn’t run this year, and won’t be for the foreseeable future (especially as Manor’s former leadership staff is moving that team into FIA WEC’s new-look LMP1 class in addition to its LMP2 program).

Manor Group’s receivership outfit, Just Racing Services Limited, went into administration earlier this year. As there was no new buyer for the F1 team, Manor dropped from the 2017 grid before the season.

The FIA said it would return its entry fee to help Manor Group pay off outstanding debts.

It basically means nothing in the grand scheme of things since Manor missed out on 10th place in the constructor’s standings in 2016 and fell from the F1 grid as a result, but hey, it’s a goodwill gesture going into Thanksgiving this week.