Panther Racing is now looking for a new driver for the 2004 edition of the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series. Sam Hornish Jr. made it known to his team this morning that he will take his considerable talents elsewhere after the close of the 2003...
Panther Racing is now looking for a new driver for the 2004 edition of the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series.
Sam Hornish Jr. made it known to his team this morning that he will take his considerable talents elsewhere after the close of the 2003 campaign at Texas Motor Speedway this October, leaving John Barnes and cohorts to compile "a short list of drivers to fill the vacancy left by Hornish."
The two-time Indy Racing League defending champion took his first victory of the year yesterday at Kentucky Speedway, dominating the 200-lap Belterra Casinos Indy 300 by taking pole position in the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet, leading 181 laps and, until a sole caution punctuated green-flag running after 147 tours of the 1.5-mile tri-oval, lapping all but second place Scott Dixon.
When Hornish joined Panther Racing in 2001, he had a lot of promise but little collateral. Upon leaving, the 24-year-old from Defiance, OH will have at least two titles on his stellar resume, a League leading nine victories - or more, who knows - and knowledge he's won the fastest IndyCar Series race ever held, again at Kentucky Speedway.
"To leave Panther Racing at the end of this year is the hardest decision that I have ever made," Hornish acknowledged. "This is a great team with great people and tremendous partners. I am extremely proud of the success that we have been able to achieve together and truly appreciate the chance that I was given to demonstrate my talents on the track.
"I would like to leave Panther with a third consecutive IRL championship and that is where my focus will be from now until season's end," Hornish stated. After creeping into the IndyCar Series top ten in standings at Pikes Peak International Raceway in mid-June, Hornish and Panther have been on a tear and, thanks to running second at Michigan International Speedway in late July, sixth at Gateway International Raceway last week and yesterday's victory, this group are now in fifth place, just 77 points behind leader Tony Kanaan (385-308) with four races remaining.
Hornish has said all summer that he will make his intentions known, not just for next year but ostensibly for the next decade by the end of August. It's well known that Hornish is looking to compete in the Daytona 500 and stock car racing could be his next challenge.
"We've had a magical ride since Sam joined Panther Racing in 2001," noted team co-owner John Barnes, "and we hope to secure a third championship this season. It was clear yesterday, when we won Kentucky, that this combination is the toughest in open wheel racing today.
"But things change and sometimes people need to step out of a comfort zone and stretch a bit," Barnes acknowledged. "We wish Sam the best in whatever he decides to pursue." The Panther Racing team has a total of 12 Indy Racing League victories to its credit. "There are a lot of talented drivers who have expressed an interest in driving for [us]. We will begin our search immediately," Barnes declared, "to determine what direction we will take for 2004."