When Tomas Enge sustained fractures to his lower back's T-12 and L-1 vertebrae at Nashville Superspeedway two weeks ago (due to rear suspension failure), Panther Racing was faced with a delicate task. As regular combatants in the Indy Racing ...
When Tomas Enge sustained fractures to his lower back's T-12 and L-1 vertebrae at Nashville Superspeedway two weeks ago (due to rear suspension failure), Panther Racing was faced with a delicate task.
As regular combatants in the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series, the team vies for entrant points as well as driver points and needed a suitable substitute while Enge's back heals. For the race on the historic Milwaukee Mile last Sunday, they tabbed Buddy Lazier, who promptly qualified Enge's car fifth for the 225-mile contest. Lazier was taken out of the contest in a bizarre pit road accident on lap 130, finishing 18th.
The team faced another dilemma for this weekend's Firestone Indy 400 on the banked 2-mile Michigan International Speedway oval. Lazier had already planned to pilot the #95 Panther machine with backing from long-time supporter Pennzoil, leaving the third seat open.
During last weekend's race the team intimated it would call Townsend Bell to fill the seat but wasn't quite ready to make an official announcement until all the details were sorted. After all, Bell drove in ten IndyCar Series events for Panther last year after the team parted ways with Mark Taylor and his seat was already built for the Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone #2 RockStar machine.
"We're thrilled that Townsend was available and willing to rejoin Panther Racing this weekend, noted team co-owner John Barnes. "We're still looking forward to when Tomas Enge gets healthy and can get back in the car, but Townsend did a great job for us last year and we know he'll be able to catch on quickly and have a great run this weekend at Michigan."
During his time with Panther during the 2004 season, Bell logged five top- 10 finishes and the former Indy Lights Champion took a fifth-place result in his second start at Nashville. In last year's Michigan race, Bell qualified seventh and finished eighth.
"It's great to be back. I've been following the races this season and I know all the Panther boys will make me feel right at home," Bell said. "I was sitting on the beach last year when Panther gave me a call and I was pleasantly surprised an opportunity came my way again this year. I hope [Tomas] Enge makes a full recovery, because he has learned what it takes to be competitive in the IRL and I know how badly he wants to get back in this car."
After earning his Indy Lights title in a dominant 2001 season in which Bell won six of 12 races and had eight poles, Bell spent the 2003 season racing in the FIA's International F3000 series. That led to Formula One tests with BAR Honda and Jaguar.
"I'm kept in touch with Tommy Boy (his nickname for team driver Tomas Scheckter) during the season and I look forward to racing and laughing with him again," Bell indicated. "I told him to pad down the high line for me at MIS; he seems to like it up there. I'm hoping the three of us can put on a show for all the people at Chevrolet and General Motors in their home race."
The Firestone Indy 400, a 200-lap contest is broadcast on ABC at 3PM EDT.