In 2011, Panther Racing's JR Hildebrand was one turn away from becoming a rookie sensation at the Indianapolis 500, instead hitting the wall and placing second to the late Dan Wheldon. Oriol Servia, driving for Newman/Haas Racing in 2011, qualified third on the grid during the "Fast Nine" qualifying round, putting himself on the front row for the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," eventually finishing sixth. As the 2012 Indianapolis 500 rolls around, with qualifying scheduled for Saturday and Sunday, May 19 and 20, these two drivers now find themselves as part of a partnership between Panther Racing and Servia's new team, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
"We started talking with Panther shortly after the Indy 500 last year," said co-owner Dennis Reinbold. "We did a little more of a casual partnership last year. We started sharing some information toward the end of the season. That went very well…So John (Barnes, Panther co-owner) and Robbie (Buhl, DRR co-owner) and myself started talking about this year, and then we went a different direction with the Lotus program."
Servia's #22 car will join Team Chevy beginning with the Indianapolis 500, a switch from the Lotus engine program that DRR started the season with. Both DRR and Bryan Herta Autosport-Team Barracuda were released from their engine contracts by Lotus, an engine that "demonstrated a lot of promise," but suffered from little testing time, according to a recent article at racer.com.
"We've now formed Panther‑DRR," said Buhl on a recent teleconference. "I couldn't be more excited, as an ex‑driver, to now have two very good single efforts…and good drivers in both JR and Oriol. And for those guys now to be working together and exchanging that information, you know, I can't wait to get things rolling here for the month of May."
"…working with JR, I know he's a super talented guy," said Servio of his new "teammate". "He was Indy Lights champion, and he's shown many times his speed. Not only speed, I know he's a good guy. He's one of those people that you can trust, that you can work with, and I think we all ‑‑ you know, in this deal, I think we all see how it's going to be beneficial for all of us to work together well and hopefully go for a one‑two finish in the big race. I'm really excited and looking forward to it."
Hildebrand added: "I'm really looking forward to it. I think, for me, it will help a lot as well. Obviously, having worked with Dreyer & Reinbold in the past, they gave me my debut in the IndyCar Series two years ago now, and being around Oriol for the last year, I think we can all just get down to business in a hurry and get started on the right foot."
These two young stars of the IZOD IndyCar Series will be among those to watch for both qualifying and the race. Through three days of practice (Saturday through Monday, May 12 through 14), Hildebrand sits seventh-fastest (220.677 mph), while Servia improved on the first two days of practice to move up to 10th-fastest on Day 3 (220.304 mph).
The 2012 Indianapolis 500 takes the green flag on Sunday, May 27.
Source: "Transcript: IndyCar Conference Call - Panther/Dreyer & Reinbold Racing," May 8, 2012
Paula is a long-time auto racing fan who also covers the sport at Examiner.com and Skirts & Scuffs.