Former Indianapolis 500 polewinner Scott Sharp will take a break from his sportscar duties with Patron Highcroft Racing to return to the blue riband IndyCar Series event this May, bringing Tequila Patron backing to a second Panther Racing entry.
Sharp last competed in the IndyCar Series in 2007, running with Patron and Rahal-Letterman Racing, but switched to the American Le Mans Series after an acrimonious end to the relationship. He currently partners David Brabham in the Patron-backed Acura ARX-02a, taking the marque's first LMP1 victory in St Petersburg last weekend after a successful LMP2 campaign in 2008.
Sharp will drive the #16 Panther-entered Dallara alongside team regular Dan Wheldon when the 'month of May' kicks off at Indianapolis.
“We've been having conversations about having Scott drive for us for the last four years,” Panther owner John Barnes revealed, “As a team, we're excited to get this programme finalised early so we can be prepared to make a strong run at the Indianapolis 500 this year. We certainly feel like Scott is a very capable and experienced driver, and he and Dan Wheldon will really be a force during the month.”
Sharp and Wheldon, who rejoined Panther to drive the #4 National Guard Dallara this season, giving Panther one of the most experienced combinations on the entry. Sharp was the event polesitter in 2001, while Wheldon captured victory at the Brickyard in 2005, en route
to the IndyCar Series title. Panther, meanwhile, finished as runner-up in the last season's Indy 500, having led twelve laps late on in the hands of Vitor Meira.
Sharp remains the most experienced driver in IndyCar Series history, having amassed 146 starts and collected nine victories, six poles and a share of the inaugural IRL championship, in 1996, with Buzz Calkins.
“I can't express how excited I am to be back at the Indianapolis 500, especially with the chance to team with Tequila Patrón and Panther Racing,” Sharp said, “I want to thank Tequila Patrón for all of their support. John Barnes and the entire Panther team are relentless in pushing their cars to the top and that has shown in their results, and I think we'll be a great combination.”
The announcement also marks Patron's return to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, where it acted as Sharp's primary sponsor with RLR in 2007. The veteran finished sixth that season, his best career result in the 500.
Practice for the 93rd running of the Indianapolis 500 begins on 5 May