Panther Racing, the most successful team in Indy Racing League history with 13 IndyCar Series wins, 6 Infiniti Pro Series victories and two overall IRL driver's titles, has begun its search to replace Sam Hornish Jr in the #4 Pennzoil Dallara-Chevrolet next year as well as auditioning candidates for a second potential seat with the team in 2004.

"Panther Racing is excited to get on with the business of winning races and the best way we can do that is to test as many people as possible to ensure that the next generation of Panther Racing drivers has the tools to compete and win on and off the race track," said team co-owner John Barnes. "Pennzoil, Chevrolet and Panther have a heritage of winning together. Panther has a history of testing many drivers and we really believe that our system of driver evaluation will give us the best information possible to provide us with the best opportunity to start winning at Miami next February."

Panther Racing tested the departing Sam Hornish Jr at the two-mile California Speedway earlier this week before moving on to test former F3000 driver and current ALMS standout Tomas Enge. The Czech Republic born driver attended the Phoenix race earlier this year as a guest of Panther Racing.

"I have watched Tomas over the last few years and I am very impressed by his car control and his raw speed," said Barnes. "I am anxious to see how quickly he adapts to oval-track racing and to the high speeds that are reached at places like Fontana."

In addition to Enge, Panther Racing has scheduled a test at Texas Motor Speedway the end of September for American Townsend Bell. Bell has spent 2003 competing in the FIA F3000 Championship. Prior to racing abroad, Bell won the 2001 Indy Lights Championship and competed in nine CART races in 2002.

"Townsend has proven he can compete at the top levels," Barnes said. "And, he has proven he is hungry to get to the top level through his commitment to leaving his home country and living abroad to help further his career."

It is anticipated that Enge and Bell represent only the beginning of what could be a very busy off-season of driver evaluation and testing for Panther Racing.

"We are looking at quite a few drivers and we are evaluating as if we are looking for two drivers," Barnes said, alluding to the fact that Panther Racing has definite plans of becoming a two-car operation in 2004. "Alex Barron is probably the only driver on our short list that we do not need to test because he has been in our cars before and we have had the opportunity to evaluate him in competition by watching him this summer. We know Alex has talent and he has proven he can win."

Next testing steps for Panther include a week at a facility in late October to evaluate several more drivers in testing situations. Panther Racing's Infiniti Pro Series stand-out Mark Taylor will be the first on that testing list.

"Mark has had an outstanding season in IPS and his accomplishments really shine when you consider he had never driven an oval race prior to coming to the IPS series," said Barnes. "We have enjoyed working with him this past 10 months. Mark is very talented and I know the guys are anxious to give him some seat-time in the IndyCar."

 

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