Panther Says "Thanks Vitor" as Final Weekend at Chicagoland Looms
Team's Longest Tenured Driver Set to Leave No. 4 Car Following 2008 Season
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (September 4, 2008) -- As the final points race of the 2008 IndyCar Series season comes to a close, so will the first chapter of Vitor Meira's career with Panther Racing. Meira, who has started more races for the team (48) than any driver in the team's 11-year history, is scheduled to take his final green flag in the No. 4 car Sunday afternoon at Chicagoland Speedway in the PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300.
Vitor signed with Panther in February of 2006, amid speculation that neither the team nor the driver would participate that season in the IndyCar Series. With little or no sponsorship in place for the 2006 season, Meira led Panther to a fifth place finish in the championship standings during a summer run that included six podium finishes, and a seven Top Fives and a team-record 12 Top Ten results. The team's place in the final standings that season was as high as it had been since two-time champion Sam Hornish Jr. drove for the team.
During that offseason, the Delphi Corporation signed as a primary sponsor for the team's No. 4 entry and Meira signed a two-year deal to return with Panther. While the results didn't match that of the previous season, Meira still led the No. 4 team to three more Top Five results and 10 Top Ten finishes. It was late in the 2007 that Panther began negotiations with the U.S. Army National Guard to sponsor the team in 2008, and shortly thereafter it was announced that the National Guard would team with Delphi, Panther and Meira to complete its 2008 lineup.
Meira added to his highlight reel with the team this year, punctuated by a thrilling second place finish at the Indianapolis 500 -- the team's best career effort at Indy -- that included a breathtaking pass from third place to first during a restart on Lap 160. Vitor would lead 12 laps at the 2.5-mile oval and eventually finish second to current IndyCar Series points leader Scott Dixon, but his and the team's place in Indianapolis 500 history had been set.
At Kentucky Speedway, Meira started on the front row -- alongside Dixon -- and that day started his 45th race for Panther, surpassing Hornish Jr. to become the driver with the most race starts in team history. Meira paced the field that day in Kentucky and for the season he has led a total of 80 laps in six different events, the most in any of his three years with Panther.
Entering the final race of the season, Meira has amassed seven podiums, 12 Top Fives, 29 Top Tens and a total of 248 laps led.
He is family, will always be a friend and has been nothing short of phenomenal in representing Panther Racing, its sponsors and the sport of open-wheel racing. The door at the team's office will remain open for him to return when the opportunity should become available, and no matter what, this building will forever be filled with friends and fans of Vitor Meira.
John Barnes, Panther Racing Managing Partner & CEO:
"We appreciate all the efforts and hard work that Vitor Meira has put into the last three years with Panther Racing. This chapter of Panther and Vitor's career together has paused, but it's clearly not over. I've said this before and it's especially true in this case: the door is not closed for Vitor to somebody drive for us again. He's got all the talent in the world and he's been a hard worker, a great person and an ambassador for all of our partners in this team over the years. Vitor has become a very close friend of mine, to all Panther employees and the Barnes family. We wish him nothing but the best, good luck in the future and we'll give him nothing but the best of our efforts this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway."
Mike Griffin, Panther Racing Founding Partner:
"I feel privileged to have had Vitor in my life for the past three years. Before I met him, I had heard a lot of very positive things about him and what a high quality person he was. Since getting to know him much better, I've found all those glowing compliments didn't begin to do justice to him. He's just an awesome guy who wants to make the world a better place for everyone. He's had an impact on my definition of a real role model."