Wheldon to leave Ganassi, rejoin Panther Racing

  • Associated Press
  • Tuesday, September 2, 2008 4:17pm
  • SportsSports

INDIANAPOLIS — Former Indianapolis 500 winner and IndyCar champion Dan Wheldon is rejoining Panther Racing, possibly as soon as next month.

The 30-year-old Englishman made his IRL debut with Panther in two races in 2002, drove for Andretti Green Racing the next three seasons and with Ganassi Racing the past three years. His spot with Ganassi will go to 2007 Indy champion Dario Franchitti, who is returning to open wheel racing after one season in NASCAR.

“This is the place where I started my career in 2002 and … I know that we’ll be fighting for outright victories, the Indianapolis 500 title and the league championship,” Wheldon said Tuesday.

Wheldon, who has two wins this season at Kansas and Iowa, is currently fourth in the IndyCar Series points standings with two races remaining. Panther spokesman Mike Kitchel said the Indianapolis-based team is negotiating Wheldon’s release from Ganassi, possibly in time for him to rejoin Panther for the Oct. 26 season finale in Australia.

“I’m looking forward to when my obligations with my current team have been honored, so I can get with the entire Panther family and start moving toward all of our goals of winning races and championships together,” Wheldon said. “It’s great to be back.”

Wheldon has 15 IndyCar wins in 96 starts. He won both the Indy 500 and the IRL championship in 2005. The next season, he tied former teammate Sam Hornish Jr. in series points, but Hornish won the title because he had more victories.

His new contract with Panther will be a multiyear deal, Kitchel said, but further details were not disclosed.

“It’s hard to describe the level of excitement and emotions all of us at Panther have knowing that Dan has come back to drive for us,” team boss John Barnes said. “I remember watching him drive for the first time in the Indy Lights series years ago, and I knew he was going to be a special talent. Since then he’s become one of the best open-wheel drivers in the world.

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