The excitement at Panther Racing yesterday was all for naught, it appears. Tomas Scheckter, driver of the ...
The excitement at Panther Racing yesterday was all for naught, it appears.
Tomas Scheckter, driver of the #4 Pennzoil Panther Dallara/Chevrolet who ostensibly qualified on the outside of the front row, together with his teammate Townsend Bell in the #2 Menards/Johns Manville Dallara/Chevy (13th in time trials) have been moved from their original grid positions to the rear of the 21-car field for Sunday's Chevy 500K at Texas Motor Speedway.
Early this morning the Indy Racing League's IndyCar Series competition department announced the team had "chassis technical violations", found during post-qualifying inspection Friday evening. As a result, both drivers' qualifying times have been disallowed and the team has been fined an undisclosed amount for their breach, which hasn't been revealed.
As a result, Scheckter starts 20th and Bell begins the 200-lap, 300-mile season finale from 21st position, based on their practice speeds. Both drivers now must practice with the first group during today's two practice sessions.
Panther Racing issued a statement regarding the IndyCar Series technical ruling shortly before the start of practice this morning, noting the two Dallara/Chevrolet/Firestone racers passed technical inspection twice on Friday - prior to the first practice and again as they rolled onto the qualifying line.
"Unfortunately the same cars that passed the previous technical inspections did not pass the post-qualification technical inspection. We are disappointed in the result but we are fully supportive of the IndyCar technical inspection staff, rules and rulings," the team stated. "It is Panther Racing's belief that aggressive technical inspections and rules help keep the playing field even for all teams.
"We are confident that the rules are and will continue to be enforced equally across all teams," the Panther team statement went on. "Panther Racing is committed to winning races in the IndyCar Series and it is our desire to do so with cars that fit within every rule and regulation."
The demotion is particularly difficult for Scheckter, whose season has been fraught with difficulties. The South African was hoping his front-row start tomorrow would contravene the problems of his initial 15 races with the Pennzoil Panther team.
After scoring five poles in his first two seasons of IndyCar Series competition, Scheckter has none for the 2004 campaign; after running up seven top-five and 13 top-ten results and leading 13 races over the prior two years, Scheckter has one each top five and top ten in 2004 and has led three races for only 32 laps. In the two previous years, he led a total of 934 laps.
Yesterday afternoon after setting his quick lap, Scheckter declared his speed a victory for Chevrolet. "It's come down to the end of the season, the championship's already decided and they're still pushing this hard. It's great for Chevrolet, it's great for this team and it's great for this crew," he said.
Looking forward to the plausibility of securing his second IRL victory on Sunday, Scheckter noted, "It would mean a massive, massive amount. I think it would give a positive feeling for the team. For me, it would really, really make the off-season a lot smoother."
The prospect of victory in the Chevy 500K is not out of Scheckter's reach following this denial of his spot on the front row alongside MBNA polesitter Helio Castroneves, but it will make his ascension a bit more difficult.