Panther Returns to Indy Pro Series with Driver Hideki Mutoh
Former IPS Champions Return To Series with Formula Dream Champ
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 12, 2006) -- Super Aguri Panther Racing announced today that it has signed 2003 Formula Dream Champion Hideki Mutoh to drive its Indy Pro Series entry for the 2007 season. This marks Panther Racing's return to the Indy Racing League's developmental series, after the team won a dominant championship in 2003 with Mark Taylor, who won seven of the 11 races in which he competed that season.
Mutoh, a 24-year-old from Tokyo, Japan, is a veteran of the Formula Ford, Formula Dream, Asian Formula 2000 and the Japanese Formula 3 series. Most recently, in 2006, Mutoh competed in both Formula Nippon and the Super GT Championship, where he started from the pole and won his final race at Fuji Speedway.
"In addition to Kosuke Matsuura we're excited to have Hideki Mutoh, who has lot of experience in some of Japan's top racing categories, to our team," Panther Racing CEO and co-owner John Barnes said. "His addition will allow us to return to the Indy Pro Series and strengthen our partnership with Super Aguri. We hope that Hideki adjusts to his new environment quickly and we look forward to him showing us 100 percent in the races. We've already hired some great people for our IPS program so he's going to be in great hands here at Panther."
Mutoh will drive the No. 55 entry, with sponsorship details to be released in the near future.
"I am very excited to race in the Indy Pro Series this year with Super Aguri Panther Racing," Mutoh said. "This year, I was racing in Formula Nippon and Super GT, which are the top categories of Japanese racing. I am very happy to get this great opportunity but at the same time I am very nervous to reach my expectations. Everything will be a new experience for me but I am ready to learn as much as possible and I will do my best next season."
Panther competed in the Indy Pro Series for only one season, in 2003, when Mark Taylor drove the No. 4 Fulmar entry. The team won a total of seven races and were victorious at Homestead, Phoenix, Kansas, Nashville, Chicagoland and Fontana. Taylor also won four pole positions and led a then-record 425 laps in his 11 starts. The 2003 championship team was engineered by Brent Harvey, who is now a support engineer on Vitor Meira's No. 4 Panther Honda that finished fifth in the IndyCar Series championship 2006 season.
Mutoh's race engineer will be Blair Perschbacher and his chief mechanic is John Worthe.
Like Matsuura, who will drive Panther's No. 55 Panasonic Honda in the IndyCar Series next season, Mutoh is part of Aguri Suzuki's Super Aguri Indy Project -- an initiative that was formed in 2002.
"I am very happy to announce our entry into the Indy Pro Series with Hideki Mutoh," Suzuki said. "The series will be racing on the same courses as the IRL IndyCar Series so it will be a great learning curve for Mutoh as a freshman to American oval racing. The team itself is returning to the Indy Pro Series so we hope to learn the series with the driver and hopefully we can be a top team again soon."