SONOMA, California- (August 25, 2012) – Hometown favorite and Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand qualified 17th for the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma posting a fast lap of 1:19.0931 with top speed of… The Panther team made changes to the No.4 National Guard Chevy for Saturday’s qualifying session after struggling for grip throughout most of Friday’s practice session.

“The guys did a great job to make some changes from practice, we were definitely struggling with a few things when practice ended,” Hildebrand said. “I think we did a good job making some incremental improvements and adjusting for the red tire. I probably over drove my lap a little bit and that probably cost us a couple of tenths.”

Hildebrand and the Panther team spent much of Friday practice searching for more rear-grip with the Firestone tires, and the young driver suspects tire-wear will play a large roll in tomorrow’s race. Tomorrow will mark Hildebrand’s third career start at this hometown track, after making his IndyCar debut here with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2010. That season, Hildebrand set the fastest lap of the race driving the No. 24 but was taken out by Marco Andretti while running in the Top Five.
Panther has made a total of nine previous starts at Infineon, with a total of one podium, two Top Five and five Top Ten finishes. The team’s best starting position is fourth (Tomas Enge, 2005) and it has a highest finish of third (Vitor Meira, 2006). Enge led a total of 13 laps in his only start on the track for Panther, the only time the team has paced the field at Infineon.

“I think tomorrow’s race is going to be tough. We haven’t seen quite as many cars go soaring off the track here as we normally do during practice, but that’s still not out of the equation. The tires that Firestone has given us here have a significant peak right at the beginning of the runs,” Hildebrand explained. “Even the black tire, the primary tire, goes off pretty significantly as we go through. I think that could create a lot of marbles off line, and this place is easy to make mistakes on especially since tomorrow’s race will be in the heat of the day.”

The Panther team is paying tribute to Co-owner and San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh this weekend and Hildebrand, a bay-area native, is looking to bring that car to the front of the pack.

“It’s going to be about being as mistake free as possible and taking care of the tires. Pretty much everyone is going to be on a three stop strategy so that takes the strategy out the equation a little, so we’re going to have to get creative. We’ve made some improvements to the car and if we can continue doing that we should be in good shape.”