Josef Newgarden said Ed Carpenter Racing had a would-be full-time driver waiting in the wings already in its arsenal earlier this year in test driver JR Hildebrand.
And with Newgarden’s departure to Team Penske, the spot in the No. 21 ECR Chevrolet opened up and the logical replacement was right there.
On Friday, Hildebrand has been officially confirmed in that seat, and will make his return to the Verizon IndyCar Series field full-time for the first time since 2012.
Although he has raced in seven consecutive seasons since making his debut in 2010, only his 2011 and 2012 seasons with Panther Racing were full-time. He’s raced only 12 times since in the last four years, with only five starts in the last three years – all at the Indianapolis 500 or the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis.
“Honestly, I just couldn’t be more ready to get started!” Hildebrand said. “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.”
“The relationship I’ve had with Ed Carpenter and ECR has honed my determination to get back in the seat because of how confident I feel in what we could do together. Now, I’m here to make it happen. I feel like I’ve got something to prove and can’t think of a better place to do it.”
With the Juan Pablo Montoya domino falling earlier this week that he’d be continuing with Team Penske in a fifth car for the Indianapolis 500 and whatever potential sports car program that team may assemble, it all-but-assured Hildebrand would be in the No. 21 car next year.
Carpenter, who is yet to fill the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet for the road and street races but will drive the six oval races (the team termed that “the road and street course program for the car is still under consideration”), has hailed Hildebrand’s role within the team.
“We first started talking about this in 2013 and the timing has just now worked to give JR an opportunity to show what he can do with a full-time ride.” Carpenter said. “The job that he has done for the team each time we have put him in a car the past three years has proven to us that he is the right man for the job.”
“Whether it has been his role with the team during the past three 500s or the testing he has done for us over the past two years, he consistently shows he deserves a full-time opportunity. I am confident that JR will shine in the 21 car and that ECR will continue to post the results we have grown to expect.”
It’s been quite a couple weeks for Hildebrand, having also married longtime girlfriend Kristin Paine late last month.