Sometimes there’s one driver every offseason who hits the jackpot – and occasionally it happens to be a guy who didn’t have a full-time ride the previous season.
From 2011 into 2012, that driver was Simon Pagenaud. He starred in cameo appearances in IndyCar en route to a full-time ride with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports in ’12, where he would then finish fifth in points and win rookie-of-the-year honors.
Last year, it was Ryan Briscoe. After a half-IndyCar, half-sports car career odyssey in 2013, Briscoe made it back to IndyCar full-time this year with Chip Ganassi Racing and additionally earned a role as a third driver with Corvette Racing in TUDOR United SportsCar Championship endurance races.
This year, it’s looking like it could be JR Hildebrand.
The up-and-coming American wasn’t fully able to capitalize on his potential in two and a half years with Panther Racing before his contract was determined after the 2013 Indianapolis 500. He punched above his weight in two starts with Bryan Herta Autosport later in 2013 and finished in the top-10 in his only IndyCar start this year, with Ed Carpenter Racing at this year’s ‘500.
On Monday, Hildebrand returned to an IndyCar for the first time since the ‘500 by taking over the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet driven by Carpenter (ovals) and Mike Conway (road/street courses) this past season.
Both he and Josef Newgarden had a chance to work together for the first time with the merged CFH Racing, and with their Chevrolet engines. This marked Hildebrand’s first road course appearance in an IndyCar since August 2013, at Sonoma, when Hildebrand made his last road or street start with BHA.
“INDYCAR is where I want to be and I’ve made no bones about letting it be known that I enjoyed my experience with ECR at Indy and wanting to continue that in whatever capacity,” he said, via IndyCar.com. “The team is here to bang through some things and start getting on the same page. I’m trying to help with that as much as possible and get back out here. It’s been a year and some change since I was in an IndyCar on a road course so it’s great to get back in the car and get up to speed quickly.”
Carpenter said in the same IndyCar.com piece that while he’d like to have Conway back, he wouldn’t enter into an agreement if he’d lose him for a couple races. As chronicled on MotorSportsTalk, at least three and likely five IndyCar/FIA World Endurance Championship conflicts are expected for 2015.
Meanwhile for Hildebrand, his hometown San Francisco Giants stand on the doorstep of their third MLB World Series championship in the last five years tonight. They now travel to Kansas City for Game 6 with a 3-2 lead.
So if Hildebrand’s Giants win the World Series, that’s one great piece of news in the bag. And with the possibility of a return to IndyCar looming, it could be two.
Worth noting it already has happened once before where the Giants won the World Series and Hildebrand got a ride the next year, when the Giants took the 2010 title and Hildebrand debuted with Panther Racing in 2011 (after 2 part-time cameos in 2010).