IRL: Darren Manning makes the big move

Darren Manning sure looked perky at last night's CART Champ Car banquet and party. One would have thought it was his natural ebullience causing the 28-year-old Briton to dance about the room. Not so. Manning just signed the choice contract to...

Darren Manning sure looked perky at last night's CART Champ Car banquet and party.  One would have thought it was his natural
ebullience causing the 28-year-old Briton to dance about the room.  Not so.

Manning just signed the choice contract to drive for Chip Ganassi's Indy Racing League IndyCar Series Team Target in 2004 - a career move any smart driver would make, and he'll likely build on the ninth-place finish he earned as a rookie driver for Derrick Walker's Reynard-equipped Champ Car team.

Manning was the highest placed Reynard driver on the 19-car circuit over all 18 races, earning 14 top-10 finishes and three top-fives, including a season-ending best of second place at Surfers Paradise, Australia.

Ganassi - and team manager Mike Hull have keen eyes for talent and they also require a shoe who can work well within their well-established system. Ganassi always wants drivers of passion as he and Hull strive to establish the chemistry essential to a winning team. Manning's opportunity came as a result of Tony Renna's death during his first test with the team.

Darren Manning, from his first CART race at Rockingham Motor Speedway in Corby, England (September 2002) has shown the kind of moxie that fits Ganassi and Hull's operation. In his initial drive (for Dale Coyne Racing), Manning driving a Team St. George Lola/Ford-Cosworth took a ninth place finish after leading 18 laps. From that start, Manning has shown lip on and off the track.

It's a good match. Certainly there were other drivers available who have talent, Alex Barron chief among them, but Manning at Ganassi makes sense. The North Yorkshire, England native has settled into the Indianapolis area since joining Walker Racing late last year.

After starting his racing career at age 10 in karts, Darren moved on to success in Formula Vauxhall and F3 in the UK. He won All Japan F3 in 1999 with six victories and served as BAR Formula One test driver from 2000-2.

Prior to competing in the Rockingham CART race, Darren tried his hand at Britain's version of NASCAR called ASCAR. The series pretty much runs at Rockingham as it's the only oval venue around - at this point. So he had some familiarity with the circuit, if not the discipline.

Manning will drive the #10 Team Target Panoz G Force/Toyota, partnering 2002 Indy Racing League champion Scott Dixon in the #9 Target car. "Team Target has proven they are one of the premier organizations in all of motorsports," Manning said. "Their legacy of winning championships is amazing. It's an honor to drive for them," he declared.

"What they did this year proves even more that they are the team to beat. I'm truly excited," Manning admitted, "to be part of their team. I've fared pretty well on ovals so far in my career and I'm confident I'll be successful next year" in this new series.

"We're excited to have Darren on board with us for the 2004 season," said Team Target owner Chip Ganassi. "He's shown over the years he is an extremely talented driver and he's a guy that really fits into this organization. I've no doubt Darren will adapt quickly to these cars and compete for the championship."

If Darren Manning is to contend for next year's title, though, he might turn to Scott Dixon for inspiration: in taking 2003 IndyCar Series laurels, Dixon led the most laps(748), led more races (14), took more poles (5) and race wins (3) than any other driver on the circuit..

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Darren Manning , Scott Dixon , Alex Barron , Tony Renna , Chip Ganassi , Mike Hull , Dale Coyne