Panther Racing looks likely to be running an all-British line-up in the IRL and Indy Lights championships next season after signing English drivers Martin Plowman and Pippa Mann to run in the junior series.
John Barnes’ team had already tempted 2005 Indycar champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Dan Wheldon over from Target Chip Ganassi Racing to drive the #4 car in the senior championship.
Mann and Plowman will follow in the footsteps of Britons Mark Taylor, who won seven races on the way to the 2003 title, and Dillon Battistini who won four times as a rookie this year but abruptly parted company with the team before the final race.
Panther had been talking to ex-F1 pilot Anthony Davidson and had tested GP2 driver Mike Conway, but chose instead to dip into more junior series for its new recruits, both of whom will be stepping up a level with the move.
Plowman, the first to be signed, has made 14 starts in the Formula 3 Euro Series as a factory-supported Volkswagen driver. The 20-year-old from Burton-upon-Trent began in karting and won the 2000 British Yamaha Open title as a 12-year-old.
He went on to become the youngest winner of the French Open International Championship in 2003 before adding the 2004 Asia Pacific Championship title to his CV.
He said: “Moving up to the Firestone Indy Lights series will be a big step for me on many levels, as I will have to face driving on an oval for the very first time. Everything will be new to me, from the car to all of the circuits and even the culture and way of life as I will be moving to live in Indianapolis shortly.
“It’s a really exciting time – I’m looking forward to learning something new every day. After meeting the Panther Racing crew, I was really impressed by the whole team’s passion for motorsport and to succeed, so I can’t wait to be a part of that.”
Mann has spent the last two seasons in the World Series by Renault, where she became the first woman to score a point. The 24-year-old from Ipswich has also competed in the British and French Formula Renault Championships and the Formula Renault Eurocup.
This followed a successful career in karting, where she competed in the Formula A European and World Championships and became the first British female to win a race.
She said: “I’m extremely excited to be joining Panther Racing. Having spent time with them over the summer, I am very impressed with the way in which the entire team works, and I look forward to being a part of their 2009 Firestone Indy Lights campaign.
“Much of this is going to be new to me – especially racing on ovals – but I’m ready for the challenge and know that I’ll be surrounded by a wealth of experience from which I can learn. It’s a truly fantastic opportunity for me and I’m very grateful to everyone who has made this possible. I cannot wait to get started.”
Team owner Barnes was quick to stress the developmental potential of his two new drivers.
He said: “We certainly feel like Martin is a tremendous addition and we’re excited to see him in a Panther car very soon. He’s a young driver with a lot of upside and the team is looking forward to helping him develop into a great open-wheel competitor.
“Pippa is another tremendous addition to our developmental program. We feel like she has a lot of room to grow, and we’re going to give her all the tools she needs to continue the success Panther has had with its Indy Lights programme.
“Pippa and Martin give us two dynamic and talented drivers for next season, and we’ll see how the rest of the offseason plays out in terms of expanding our Indy Lights program even further.”