As anticipated, Panther Racing has confirmed that Dan Wheldon will make an early return in the cockpit of its #4 Dallara, having been entered for the non-points race on Australia's Gold Coast.
Piloting the Delphi National Guard machine in late October's Nikon Indy 300 will be Wheldon's first appearance in a Panther car since he finished 15th at Texas Motor Speedway on 15 September 2002. Since then, the Briton has gone on to win 15 races - including the Indianapolis 500 and leading to an IndyCar championship - with Andretti Green Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing, before announcing that he was to return to Panther in place of Vitor Meira for 2009.
“We look at this as a great way for our team to get a jump on the 2009 season with Dan,” team co-owner John Barnes explained, “Our #4 crew is going to remain intact and we've got some great people that are looking forward to working with a driver of Wheldon's calibre.
"Having the opportunity to run the Australia race next month is a tremendous opportunity for all of us to get familiar with one another. Our goals for next season are high, and the work we're putting in to meet our goals of winning races, the league championship and the Indy 500 have already begun.”
Wheldon will test with the team at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Monday, and again at Sebring International Raceway prior to making the trip to Australia.
“It's a great opportunity for us to work together on a race weekend and determine what the team needs from me and what I need from them,” Wheldon confirmed, “The key to the 2009 championship is coming out strong in the first five races, and the work we do now will help us accomplish that.
"In just the first few days I've spent with the team, I must say I'm impressed with how hard the guys at Panther work and the attention to detail I've seen with the racecars. I know the #4 car is very special to John Barnes, and I'm very much looking forward to the opportunity to race the Delphi National Guard car, starting in Australia.”