Panther Racing has parted ways with driver JR Hildebrand and replaced him with Ryan Briscoe for this weekend's twin races on the Streets of Belle Isle in Detroit, the team announced on Thursday afternoon. The team referred to its decision to terminate Hildebrand's contract a "mutual agreement."
Hildebrand was set to drive for the team through the remainder of the 2013 season. Hildebrand is the 2009 Firestone Indy Light Series champion and made 37 starts in the No. 4 National Guard/Panther Racing Chevrolet since the beginning of the 2011 season.
"We'd like to thank JR Hildebrand for his contributions to Panther Racing, and especially the work he put into supporting the National Guard and all of our programs to support its soldiers," Panther managing partner John Barnes said in a news release. "JR is a great young man, a class act, and somebody who has been a great representative of our race team and all of our partners since 2011. We certainly wish JR, his family and his representatives all the best in the future."
Hildebrand is perhaps best known for nearly winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500, if not for crashing on the final turn of the last lap that ultimately delivered Dan Wheldon's final IndyCar victory.
A series of mistakes, including running into the back of Will Power under caution at St. Petersburg and crashing on lap four of this year's Indianapolis 500 had Hildebrand mired 18th in the champions standings, 89 points behind Marco Andretti.
These mistakes and a lack of improvement out of the California-native appear to have led to Hildebrand's termination. Hildebrand thanked his former employers in a news release where he also looked forward to his next opportunity in the IndyCar Series.
"I want to thank Panther Racing for the opportunity," Hildebrand said. "I'm very much looking forward to the next chapter in my IndyCar career, and wish all my friends at Panther the absolute best."
Briscoe joins the team one week after making his season debut in the Indianapolis 500, where he finished 12th for Chip Ganassi. Briscoe has seven career IndyCar Series wins but has spent most of this season in the American Le Mans Series after losing his ride with Penske Racing at the end of last season.
"I'm unbelievably excited to be back in the IndyCar Series with Panther Racing," Briscoe said. "I've competed against this team for a long time and it will be great to have the opportunity to work with John Barnes and the Panther guys. I'm confident we'll all work well together and be able to hit the ground running this weekend in Detroit."