The parting of the ways between Dan Wheldon and Target Chip Ganassi Racing appears to be an amicable one, on the surface at least, with each paying tribute to the other following the team's decision to sign Dario Franchitti for 2009.
Wheldon's future at the front-running operation was called into question when it transpired that Ganassi was trying to lure Tony Kanaan from Andretti Green Racing to partner 2008 champion-elect Scott Dixon next season. Amid rumours that he was unhappy at being asked to take a pay cut to remain on board when Kanaan ended up re-signing with AGR, Wheldon was left in limbo as the end of the season neared.
The situation was finally resolved over the Detroit weekend, when Franchitti accepted an offer from NASCAR employer Ganassi to return to the IndyCar Series, with Wheldon switching to the Panther Racing camp, at the expense of Vitor Meira.
The move, which comes as Ganassi enters its 20th season in partnership with sponsor Target, caught more than a few members of the IndyCar paddock by surprise as, once the Kanaan deal fell apart, many expected Ganassi and Wheldon to get back into bed.
“It is going to be very exciting to have Dario in one of our IndyCars next year," Ganassi admitted, "I have always admired his competitive spirit when he raced against us and have really grown to see more of what he is about this season while he raced in NASCAR. When there was a possibility of an opening on our IndyCar team, the only person I thought about was Dario. This is going to be a great move for Dario and for our team."
Ganassi was equally praising of the man he will be waving goodbye to after this weekend's Chicagoland season finale.
“Dan Wheldon has done everything this organisation has asked of him," he noted, "He was competitive from the moment that he stepped into the car for us back in 2006 and has provided Target Chip Ganassi Racing with many highlights over his three years with the team. Dan is a class act both on and off the track and we wish him nothing but the best.”
Wheldon, meanwhile, insisted that there were no regrets in turning his back on Ganassi, despite suggestions that there could be a third car being run by the team next season, claiming that he would be 'moving on to pursue a very exciting opportunity for 2009'.
"I want to personally thank Target and the whole Chip Ganassi Racing organisation for the success and enjoyment we shared together," the 2005 IRL champion said, "I wish the team well for 2009 and beyond, and I will certainly miss my working relationship with Scott Dixon and wish him and the team all the best for this weekend at Chicagoland. Now I want to focus my efforts on winning the last race of the season."
Wheldon returns to Panther six years after making his IndyCar Series debut with the team at Chicagoland, having apparently instructed his agent to initiate contact following the Kentucky round, where the Kanaan story came to light.