Dumped Indycar Series driver JR Hildebrand remains hopeful of making a return to the US-based open-wheel racing series before the end of the year, as he continues to work on a deal to get him back on the grid full-time in 2014.
The 25-year-old has been on the unemployment lists since he was sacked by the Panther Racing squad after a string of lacklustre performances in the opening rounds of the 2013 season.
Considered a better oval racing specialist than on street or road courses, Hildebrand’s greatest claim to fame was his near-win at the 2011 Indianapolis 500. On course for a sensational victory, the Californian made a mistake rounding the final corner on the last lap and plucked the right-hand-side wheels off his car. The accident allowed a disbelieving Dan Wheldon to claim victory, while a red-faced Hildebrand slithered across the finish line on two wheels (pictured right).
The result remains his one and only podium finish in a generally disappointing 38-race IndyCar racing career, which he started in 2010, a year after he romped to the Indy Lights championship title and also conducted a three-day test outing with the Force India Formula 1 team at Jerez.
Despite his indifferent form, Hildebrand remains hopeful that he can make a return to the series before the end of the season, and prove himself worthy of a full-time campaign in 2014.
“I would like to have the opportunity to run with a team that I can go out and prove to people that I can run at street courses,” he told AUTOSPORT.
“But the long and the short of it is, so have I. I’ve had some top fives, and I’ve had a lot of races where I was not consistently good. So for me, that’s something I look at as a priority.”
Hildebrand referenced his Indy Lights title – where he didn’t win on any of the oval rounds of that season – as proof of his ability on circuits with the odd right-hand turn to negotiate.
“I won the 2009 championship by winning on road and street courses. I had some poles on ovals, and a lot of podiums, but I didn’t win any oval races that year,” he continued.
“But we were dominant on road and street courses, so I feel like that’s something that I want to get out and show people that I’m capable of doing at this level.”
Hildebrand was a spectator at last weekend’s Milwaukee IndyFest, although he was working furiously behind the scenes to negotiate a race-by-race return. However, he added that he won’t consider a race seat that won’t help his long-term ambitions.
“If you’re building a sponsorship programme that is moving on towards next year then [dispelling the oval racer label] becomes a little less relevant, probably,” he added.
“But if it’s a one-off thing then the focus is probably a little more on making sure I’m in a good situation on a road and street course to show that yes, I can do this.”