IRL: Milwaukee: Panther Racing race report

WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- Menards/Johns Manville driver Townsend Bell continues to impress in his first Indy Racing League season. Bell followed up a fifth place finish at Nashville Superspeedway last weekend with an equally-impressive run Sunday in...

WEST ALLIS, Wis. -- Menards/Johns Manville driver Townsend Bell continues to impress in his first Indy Racing League season. Bell followed up a fifth place finish at Nashville Superspeedway last weekend with an equally-impressive run Sunday in the Menards A.J. Foyt Indy 225, where he finished sixth. After qualifying 12th at the Milwaukee Mile yesterday, Bell climbed the ladder Sunday to finish as the top Chevrolet in the field. The 29-year-old American has finished inside the Top Ten for two consecutive races, the first time this season for a Panther Racing driver.

Pennzoil Panther driver Tomas Scheckter ran into gearbox problems in his Chevrolet, and was unable to capitalize on his eighth place qualifying effort. Tomas lost fourth gear just 10 laps into the race, and the problem continued to get worse. The Panther crew considered changing the gearbox, but realized the damage was too significant to continue the race. Scheckter finished in 21st.

Now the Panther Pack sets its sights on Michigan International Speedway, where both the team and Scheckter have had their fair share of success. Tomas was victorious during his rookie year at MIS in 2002, when he dominated from the pole. He led 122 laps that day. Tomas finished third at MIS last year, and was the pole-sitter for the second consecutive season. He led 42 laps during the 2003 contest, giving him a total of 164 laps led at Michigan.

The Pennzoil Panther Chevrolet finished just ahead of Scheckter last season in second place, and missed victory by just a nose to Alex Barron, which sixth closest finish in IRL history. Sam Hornish Jr. finished in 7th for Panther at Michigan during the championship season of 2002. The Michigan Indy 400 will be Panther Racing's third start on the two-mile oval.

Tomas Scheckter:

"We lost fourth gear early in the race, and the gear teeth went into the pump and through the filter. The Panther guys pulled it behind the wall and we were thinking about changing the gearing cluster. But the gearbox was overheating badly, and we decided to call it a day. It's a shame for everybody on the Pennzoil Panther team and Chevrolet, we've all had success at Michigan in the past and we'll look to turn things around there."

Townsend Bell:

"We'll take top Chevy. We had some mis-communication on our first pit stop and fell back to the back of the field, and then picked off a few spots once we were running again. The Panther guys battled back, and we had a great next couple of stops that got us back in the hunt. Then we just tucked it in, a lot like Nashville, and turned some laps. I got out of the groove at one point and lost a spot to Meira, but we had plenty of power to hang in there. I think that last restart was a handful for everybody. I was slipping around all over the place, but we held on for sixth, and that's a great finish for the entire Menards/Johns Manville team.

Panther Tracks: A.J. Foyt IV was involved in a minor accident during the race, and suffered damage to the nose of his car. Without a replacement nose for the #14 car, the Panther Pack loaned the Foyt team a front wing from the #4 Pennzoil Panther Chevrolet. Foyt finished 16th .... Panther Racing's gearbox specialist, Chuck Miller, is the left-front tire changer on the #2 Menards/Johns Manville car, and had to leave the pit to work on the gearbox in Scheckter's car during the race. While Miller worked on the gearbox, Pennzoil Panther left-front tire changer Rob Maxey came down to the #2 pit and changed a tire during the second stop of the afternoon. Miller returned in time for the final stop of the day .... The Michigan Indy 400 will represent Panther Racing's 99th and 100th starts in the Indy Racing League.... Panther Racing spotter/driver coach Tom Sneva collected four victories at the Milwaukee Mile during his legendary racing career. His first victory here was in September of 1981, before he ripped off a stretch of three straight victories, from August of 1982 until June of 1984. During the victory in 1984, he led 122 laps after starting second, and he and Rick Mears were the only competitors that day to lead a lap. Sneva is the 1983 Indianapolis 500 winner .... Scheckter's first ever driving coach, Kieth Fourie of Cape Town, South Africa, will be in Milwaukee this weekend to watch the race. Fourie -- who taught Tomas everything from what it meant to be "tight" and "loose" in his go-kart, also attended the Nashville race. Scheckter and Fourie worked together for almost 10 years ... Panther Racing is the winningest team in the history of the IRL, and the only team to win back-to-back league championships.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Tomas Scheckter , A.J. Foyt IV , Alex Barron , Townsend Bell , Tom Sneva , A.J. Foyt , Sam Hornish Jr.
Teams Panther Racing