Panther Rebuilds No. 4 Car, Runs Out of Time for Indy Qualification; Impressive Effort from Team Unrewarded After Bouncing Back from Wheldon Practice Crash INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 9, 2009) -- The most impressive effort at the Indianapolis...
Panther Rebuilds No. 4 Car, Runs Out of Time for Indy Qualification; Impressive Effort from Team Unrewarded After Bouncing Back from Wheldon Practice Crash
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (May 9, 2009) -- The most impressive effort at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Saturday during Pole Day qualifications went unrewarded, as Panther Racing team members rebuilt an entire racecar following Dan Wheldon's practice crash, but were stuck in the qualification line as the gun sounded to concluded the first day of qualifications for the 93rd Indianapolis 500.
The team elected to bypass its original spot in qualifications, instead waiting to spend more time practicing before attempting to make the 33-car field. The practice went well, and Wheldon had posted a lap at over 223.6 mph. In what was planned to be one final run prior to entering the qualification line, Wheldon got loose in the middle of turn two and backed his No. 4 car into the outside retaining wall. The damage on the car was significant, but Panther was far from done for the day.
Once the damaged car returned to the garage, there was still roughly three hours before the final gun concluded the day's qualifications. Realizing the overall damage to the National Guard car wasn't as devastating as originally feared, the team elected to do everything it could to put its former Indy 500 winning driver back on the track. The car's rebuild was substantial, as the team had to disassemble the entire care to change the Honda engine, repair damage to the underwing, and rebuild the rear suspension.
With help from both the National Guard crew and Scott Sharp's Tequila Patron team, the car was on the setup pad with final tweaks being put into place with just under an hour remaining in the day. But by the time the car made it through the Indy Racing League technical inspection, and out to pit lane of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, there were too many other competitors in line to allow for either a practice run or a qualification attempt.
Panther's other entry for the race is Tequila Patron driver Scott Sharp, who was involved in a minor incident during Fast Friday practice. The team elected to wait until tomorrow to make a qualification attempt with the No. 16 car, as the crew works on repairing the damage from yesterday's incident. Sharp won the pole at Indianapolis in 2001, and will be making his first career start with Panther Racing in the '500' later this month. The full-time ALMS driver with Highcroft Racing will be in Utah next week for the event there, before returning to Indianapolis the week of the race.
Both cars will attempt to make the field during tomorrow's qualification efforts.
Dan Wheldon, No. 4 National Guard Dallara Honda
"In terms of the guys getting the car back together; they did an excellent job and their commitment to getting me back out there was second to none. I'm really proud of those guys and it's a good reflection on everybody in the National Guard too. A lot of our mechanics within the team have seen the worth ethic from the Soldiers that are part of the Guard and the fact they are honorable and they never give up. And I think you saw the same traits from the Panther boys today."
(On the incident) I just got loose, we'd been working on the rear end of the car in practice. It's a shame for the National Guard Panther team, but it didn't damage the car too bad. We'd done a reasonable run just prior to that one, and we were just trying to make it a little better and the biggest thing we were working on was the balance of the car."
John Barnes, Panther Racing CEO and Co-Owner:
"I'm really proud of these guys today. It was a phenomenal effort. Most people would have rolled over and waited until tomorrow. Under (Chief Mechanic) Dan Miller's direction they got the job done and we had the No. 4 car out there and ready to run. Indiana National Guard Adjutant General (Martin) Umbarger was here and he said that, 'There was no talking, no yelling, no screaming, just work.' And a compliment like that from him means more to myself and this team than I could ever express."