Panther Ends Eventful Pole Day with Hildebrand 10th
IndyCar - Indianapolis, IN
National Guard Panther Racing driver JR Hildebrand led the team’s charge on Saturday and secured his best career Indianapolis 500 start with a tenth-place qualification effort. Hildebrand narrowly missed making the Fast Nine shootout, finishing within a couple hundredths of a mile an hour to Andretti Autosport driver James Hinchcliffe. Hildebrand posted qualifications laps of 227.704, 227.532, 227.511 and 227.016 mph for a four-lap average of 227.441 mph.
Teammate Townsend Bell had a much more eventful Pole Day experience. After initially qualifying in the 20th position for his seventh attempt at Indianapolis, Bell and team participated in open practice and were able to run several laps quicker than their qualification times. At that point the team decided to withdraw the No. 60 Sunoco “Turbo” Chevy’s original qualification effort and make another attempt to advance their position.
However, Bell was considerably slower on his second qualifying attempt and thus, removed himself from the secured Top 24 spots. After a quick look at the data, the team sent Bell back in line to utilize his third and final qualifying attempt. With just 10 minutes remaining in the session, Bell recovered, posting lap speeds of 226.146, 225.797, 225.520, 225.113 and securing the 22nd starting spot with a four-lap average of 225.643 mph.
JR Hildebrand, No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet:
“I’m really happy for all the Panther guys and the National Guard crew to be where we’re at, and being able to start 10th will be just fine for race day. We worked super hard at this, and everybody on the National Guard crew knows that next weekend is what matters. And at the end of the day being 10th versus being up there in seventh or eighthdoesn’t make that big of a difference, but we are little bit bummed that we didn’t make it into the Top Nine. Especially when we’re as close as we were to Hinch, and we were right there until that last lap. We worked all week on our racecar, and we feel like that is super quick, so we’ll see what we’ve got next week when it really matters.”
Townsend Bell, No. 60 Sunoco “Turbo” Chevrolet:
"We were fully trimmed out on the Sunoco 'Turbo' car and it was decent in practice right before we went out a second time, but then we lost a couple of miles an hour. We were baffled, we lost our position on the grid, and then we had to scramble to try some sort of magic and get it back in. I have no idea why we're going as slow as we are, but we'll work hard on it and get the car ready for race day. You just can't believe it. You think it will be easy and we'll go out and move up another five to seven spots without trying too hard and then all of the sudden I'm out there and just can't believe the lap times. My heart sank, especially after all of the effort that everyone has been put into this. The guys cameover my Bowers & Wilkins earpieces and asked me what was going on and all that I could tell them was that I was running it wide open. That's Indianapolis, but I also know the Panther Racing guys will get everything sorted for next weekend."
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