An intriguing snippet of driver news reaches us from the US, where Panther Racing is hoping to expand and run a second car in the IRL next season.
The obvious choice to fill the seat did seem to be Dillon Battistini, the rookie from Surrey who already drives in the junior Indy Lights series for Panther and who has made light of his inexperience by challenging for the title.
But it seems he has competition from two other Brits who have links to the IRL’s engine supplier Honda and Panther’s old partner Super Aguri – Anthony Davidson and Mike Conway.
A short snippet buried deep in other news on the IRL website reveals that Davidson was a guest of Panther at Belle Isle for the Detroit Indy Grand Prix and would have tested already but for an injury.
The story says:
“Former Super Aguri Formula One driver Anthony Davidson was a guest of Panther Racing. Davidson was scheduled to test in the No. 4 car two weeks ago at Infineon Raceway but injured his shoulder while riding a mountain bike. He, along with GP2 driver Mike Conway, is being considered for a second IndyCar Series seat, should the team find the proper funding to expand for 2009.”
Funding is a permanent struggle in the IRL, as in many other series, but there are some signs that sponsorship might be trickling in the direction of the teams following the merger with Champ Car that reunified North American open wheel racing.
Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, owner / drivers Sarah Fisher and Marty Roth, and Andretti Green have all signed new sponsors or re-signed existing ones in recent weeks, while sandwich company Subway funded a one-off drive for Paul Tracy in Edmonton.
Panther Racing ran a full programme in 2005 but nearly went out of business before the 2006 season as its main sponsors pulled out of racing. Determined efforts by the team and by driver Vitor Meira kept it afloat and competitive as a one-car operation, and its reward was partnership from Delphi and the Super Aguri Company in 2007.
Aguri driver Kosuke Matsuura arrived to partner Meira and Hideki Mutoh drove in the junior series – as well as enough of the main IRL calendar to be snapped up by Andretti Green Racing to replace the departing champion Dario Franchitti.
Meira is competing as the team’s lone driver this year, finishing runner-up in the Indy 500, but the team – championship winners in 2001 and 2002 – is known to be keen to regain its former status as a major player in the league.