Monday, July 1, 2013

Where's The Best Fit For Hildebrand?

JR Hildebrand is what most of us would consider a pretty cool guy. He's into some sweet vintage cars, digs his local baseball team, was smart enough to be accepted in MIT, and yes, he just happens to be a young American open wheel racer with a Firestone Light championship under his belt.

However, when Panther Racing this year didn't see things going so well, Hildebrand found himself out of a ride. That's disappointing, as Hildebrand should by all rights be one of the most marketable young stars in IndyCar. He's a sharp interview, he has plenty of talent, and is clearly tied into the car culture.

So, what we are left with is a free agent who has been working to put together a deal for 2014. That sets up some intriguing possibilities for next year. While money and openings will of course be a driving factor for where Hildebrand ends up, here's some fun speculation as to just where JR could land:

Andretti Autosport: Hildebrand's Lights championship season was with Andretti Green-AGR, so it isn't as if he doesn't have some experience working with Michael Andretti. Hildebrand-to-Andretti has been mentioned before as an entertaining potential partnership, and JR would likely be a welcome addition to that team. However, it comes down to open spots. Ryan Hunter-Reay, James Hinchcliffe, and Marco Andretti would all seem to be rock-solid for next year. EJ Viso has been very good for the team this year, and has to be considered as at least a possibility to continue on with the team. There's also Lights/500 driver Carlos Munoz, who will very likely move up with AA or someone else next season. JR to AA sounds fun, but some pieces would need to move around before that happens.

Bryan Herta Autosport: Team Barracuda/BHA has had a very rough road of it lately, and it's left all sorts of questions as to where their 2013 plans might lead. Alex Tagliani is a community-oriented veteran driver, but no one is quite sure whether or not he'll return for another season with Bryan Herta's team. If the position is open after the season's end, it would seem as if Hildebrand would be high on a list of potential options for BHA to consider.

Hildebrand needs to find a new home for '14.
Courtesy IndyCar Media. Credit: Bret Kelley
Dragon Racing: Jay Penske's outfit has been struggling greatly this year, and there's no guarantee either Sebastien Bourdais or Sebastian Saavedra will make it onto next year's driving roster. Hildebrand's reputation as an all-around racer could be an incentive to Penske, and with the funding available for both seats, it might make sense if Hildebrand doesn't quite line up a full budget on his own. Then again, there's no indicator that Dragon would be any better a situation for Hildebrand than Panther was. Right now, this is not a winning team, at Indy or elsewhere.

Dale Coyne Racing: This might not seem like an ideal location for Hildebrand, as the primary car seems to be happily occupied with a successful Justin Wilson, but there is the question of the second car. Generally, the engineering and support for the 2nd Coyne machine hasn't been been up to snuff and is usually occupied by a less-experienced racer, but a 1-2 punch of Wilson and Hildebrand sounds like an absolute blast. Additionally, Hildebrand has been rumored to be in the Coyne car at some point later this season, and tested with Coyne back in 2010. This landing spot might not seem as far-fetched as it seems at first blush.

Ed Carpenter Racing: Since the inception of the team, fans have wondered if Ed Carpenter will be expanding to two cars. If the stars do align for Carpenter in 2014, Hildebrand would be a free agent, an American coming to an All-American sort of team, and someone who could assist the team with road/street course performance. Of course, there's no guarantee ECR has expansion planned, but if they do, the two would seem at first glance to be a nice complementary duo.

Those are just some of the examples of where JR Hildebrand might end up in 2014. Feel free to share your thoughts on where he might end up below!

1 comment:

  1. I can't see JR at AA. A four-car team already, and with Munoz' impressive Indy run, if the team expands to a fifth, I would imagine he'd be the frontrunner there.

    BHA might be a good fit, either to replace Tag or as a teammate if the funding was there.

    Dragon, to me, sadly, is in the spot where Conquest Racing was for so many years; simply making up the numbers. I can't explain why things aren't going well there.

    DCR would be a good fit, especially since Hildebrand needs to reestablish himself in the INDYCAR world.

    ECR would also be a good fit, again if the funding would be there. I would also throw out Sarah Fisher Hartman Racing as a candidate-not because of any insider knowledge but just as a possible place for JR to be.

    There is one other point to keep in mind. JR Hildebrand is not out of a ride right now for no reason. He has made two high profile blunders which contributed to his being dumped. That may make teams gun-shy about him. We live in a what have you done for me lately world, and JR's nationality and the fact that he won the Indy Lights championship may not be as relevant to the powers that be as the fact that he has written off two cars in what can charitably be described as driver error, brain fade or whatever one wishes to call it. I would like to see him in the series-not because of his nationality; that matters to me far less than it does to others-but because he is a talented driver. However, the teams have to be comfortable that he won't make the same mistakes over and over again.