Ousted IndyCar driver JR Hildebrand is hopeful of making a comeback

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.

imageConsidered 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.

JR Hildebrand“That was one of the big questions from being with Panther Racing, because the team obviously had mixed results on those sorts of tracks a lot of the time.

“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.”

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Richard Bailey

Founder & Chief Editor at MotorsportM8
Hasn't missed a Grand Prix since 1989. Has a soft spot for Minardi. Tattooed with 35+ Grand Prix circuits.