Ed Carpenter Racing has found the driver it wants to build its future around. And team owner/driver Ed Carpernter didn't have to look far.
After serving as an integral part of the Ed Carpenter Racing over the past three years, JR Hildebrand will return to full-time Indy car competition in 2017. The 28-year-old Californian will race the No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Chevrolet for the entirety of the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season.
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“Honestly, I just couldn’t be more ready to get started,” Hildebrand said. “I’ve been close to, but still outside of, this role for long enough to really understand and embrace the opportunity to be back in the Verizon IndyCar Series full-time.
“The relationship I’ve had with Ed Carpenter and ECR has honed my determination to get back in the seat because of how confident I feel in what we could do together. Now, I’m here to make it happen. I feel like I’ve got something to prove and can’t think of a better place to do it."
Hildebrand, who resides in Boulder, Colo., won the Indy Lights title in 2009, and spent three seasons with Panther Racing between 2011 and 2013 before moving to a part-time role with ECR in 2014. In addition to helping the team with testing and development when Newgarden was injured last season, Hildebrand has earned consecutive finishes of 10th, eighth and sixth at the Indy 500 for the team.
Outside of racing, Hildebrand has a passion for using motorsports to inspire students in STEM subject areas, recently working on a virtual reality project to create Indy car-focused educational programming. In early 2016, Stanford University appointed Hildebrand as an adjunct lecturer, where he primarily works with the Stanford Revs Program developing autonomous vehicle technology.
Hildebrand was accepted into MIT out of high school, but deferred admission to pursue a career as a professional racing driver. Carpenter’s call offering the No. 21 seat was the perfect wedding gift for Hildebrand, who married longtime girlfriend Kristin Paine on Oct. 23.
"We first started talking about this in 2013 and the timing has just now worked to give JR an opportunity to show what he can do with a full-time ride," Carpenter said. "The job that he has done for the team each time we have put him in a car the past three years has proven to us that he is the right man for the job. Whether it has been his role with the team during the past three 500s or the testing he has done for us over the past two years, he consistently shows he deserves a full-time opportunity. I am confident that JR will shine in the 21 car and that ECR will continue to post the results we have grown to expect."
Carpenter, the only owner/driver in the Verizon IndyCar Series, will drive the team's No. 20 entry at the six oval events while the team plans to field the car at the road/street events are still under consideration.