Dan Wheldon to drive second Panther Racing entry for final two races. Panther Racing -- the reigning Indy Racing League champions -- have announced that open-wheel racing stand-out, England's Dan Wheldon, will pilot a second Panther entry at the...
Dan Wheldon to drive second Panther Racing entry for final two races.
Panther Racing -- the reigning Indy Racing League champions -- have announced that open-wheel racing stand-out, England's Dan Wheldon, will pilot a second Panther entry at the final two races of the 2002 Indy Racing League (IRL) season in an effort to prepare the team and driver for what they hope isa full-season of IRL racing in 2003.
'Panther Racing has always desired to become a two car operation, but we have made the commitment that it would not be done in a manner that detracted from our Pennzoil effort or in a manner that didn't allow an equal opportunity for the second car to win races,' said team co-owner John Barnes. 'We have kept an eye on Dan since he started racing in the United States in 1999 and we believe we have anopportunity to put together a financially and technically competitive program with Dan behind the wheel.'
Wheldon, who has been racing competitively since he was four years old, has shown he can compete in open-wheel racing by winning in three different disciplines over the last three years -- US FF2000, Toyota Atlantic and Indy Lights. And, within those three series, Wheldon has shown extremely well on the oval tracks.
'Goingall the way back to his beginning days, Dan has proven he can win races and contend for championships,' said Barnes. 'But what has impressed us the most is his knack for running up front on ovals and in high-speed draft situations like he will face in the IRL.'
At 23, Dan Wheldon is looking forward to the opportunity of travelling, testing and racing with the team. His official duties begin this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway where he will workwith team members, engineers and spotter Pancho Carter to learn as much as he can about racing in the IRL prior to his first Panther Racing test later this Summer.
'I am looking forward to the opportunity to be associated with the defending IRL Champions and working with the team,' Wheldon said. 'I had an opportunity to test an IRL car for Team Cheever last Winter and I really believe that my driving style suits this type of racing very well. Andlearning from team guys like Andy Brown (engineer), Kevin Blanch (team manager) and a great driver like Sam Hornish Jr is certainly a great opportunity.'
A sponsor for the car will be named at a later date and, if appropriate funding can be found, Panther Racing and Wheldon might compete in more than two events in 2002.
Panther Racing, who fielded cars for Scott Goodyear and Dave Steele in the past, currently competes in the IRLwith Sam Hornish Jr in the Pennzoil Panther Dallara. Hornish won the 2001 IRL Championship, started from the pole four times and won five races in his 18 races driving for Panther Racing.
'What I like about Dan is that he and Sam have virtually identical backgrounds and both are extremely competitive,' said team co-owner Gary Pedigo. 'On paper, it certainly looks like a Hornish-Wheldon duo could be an awesome right-left punch for Panther Racing.'
Dan Wheldon's first races with Panther Racing are currently scheduled for 8th September (Chigago) and 15th September (Fort Worth, Texas).