GM Racing's sole entrant in the 2005 17-race Indy Racing League IndyCar Series campaign has finalized its driver lineup. Panther Racing announced today that the two Tomas' - Scheckter and Enge - will campaign twin Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone entries throughout the year.
The 2004 campaign for Scheckter's #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevy started quite well when he qualified third and finished fifth here at Homestead- Miami Speedway's 1.5-mile oval but went downhill from there.
After leading more than 900 laps in his first two seasons, Scheckter led a total of 32 in 2004 and failed to finish ten events, a figure that normally would mean no work for the following year.
But many of the accidents he suffered through were not Tomas Scheckter's fault and the number of mechanical failures he had indicated there might be a black cloud over the Panther team's tractor-trailers after winning two championships in 2001-2 and nearly clinching a third in 2003 with Sam Hornish Jr. behind the wheel.
Co-owner John Barnes, though, has a "48-hour" rule at the Panther Racing shops. After that amount of time, he demands the team move on to the next race, the next test, the next season.
"We're very focused on the future," Barnes declared. "We think we have an opportunity because we are the only Chevrolet-based team. 2004 is behind us; we're here to turn those [difficulties] into opportunities."
Barnes sincerely believes that, by being the sole Chevrolet-powered team Panther Racing will have better opportunities. "GM has done a tremendous amount of work over the past seven months, working around the lock and making tremendous improvements. We were very quick at the first Homestead road course test and I think we'll match up well."
To give Scheckter a fast, equivalent teammate Barnes and Co. didn't have to look hard or far because an appropriate driver was right there in front of them in the paddock.
"I had a brief introduction to IRL oval racing in 2004; it's a different type of racing from what I'm accustomed to," he admitted. "Over the winter I thought what I could do to be better in the series and with this opportunity to work with Panther, I could never say no. I have a fast teammate in Tomas and I hope we succeed better than people think we will."
Because he competed in only two races, Enge is eligible for 2005 Bombardier Rookie of the Year and will compete against newcomers Danica Patrick, Patrick Carpentier and Ryan Briscoe for the award.
"Panther Racing is one of the best in the business and I relish the chance to drive for them. This is a great opportunity to show what I am capable of," Enge said. "I have seen the motivation of all the people here and we know that Chevrolet wants to leave the Indy Racing League on a high note. I think that coupled with Panther's experience we will have a chance to fight for some great results."
Enge's move to this American style of racing has struck a nerve back home in the Czech Republic. "It's a very small country and people know me because I was the first to drive in Formula 1 (as a Jordan tester)." Enge owns a GTS class victory at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and finished fourth in the final F3000 season last year, taking second at Magny-Cours and Monza.
"I am glad to bring this type of racing to my home country so people start to understand what it is like. Most know about Indy and look forward to it, just as I do this year," Enge revealed. He, together with Scheckter believes it is "a big honor to work with this American company (General Motors) and fight against Honda and Toyota for wins."
The biggest adjustment Enge has with this discipline in racing is just that: discipline. "You must have concentration the whole race on ovals. Learning to draft behind others is very different [from what I am used to]. Ovals are very different from European tracks; here you drive more with your head."
After four years in F3000, "It was not on the calendar for 2005 and there is a new series, GP2. It's more for younger drivers who have to prove their speed. I don't have to do that any longer," Enge declared.
Sponsorship for the #2 car will be revealed in three weeks, Enge said but the car will be liveried in blue and yellow as in the past.
"Panther Racing is very excited to welcome Tomas Enge to our team," declared co-owner Doug Boles. "Tomas' vast amount of open wheel experience makes him a natural for Indy car racing; we have followed Tomas' career and, in fact, gave him his first IndyCar Series test at California Speedway in September of 2003."
The Panther Racing team is convinced they're on the cusp of having an unfair advantage with their driver lineup and exclusive package for 2005. "This year GM Racing has two cars but they've budgeted the same as when they had six," Barnes acknowledged. "They want to win and they're pulling out every bell and whistle" to depart the IRL at the close of the season with a title in hand.