Ganassi: Wheldon a class act.

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.

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.

"I'm very excited to be joining the entire Panther Racing crew," the Briton said, "This is the place where I started my career in 2002 and, with the personnel and leadership that John Barnes has put together, I know that we'll be fighting for outright victories, the Indianapolis 500 title and the league championship. I'm looking forward to when my obligations with my current team have been honoured, so I can get with the entire Panther family and start moving towards all of our goals of winning races and championships together. It's great to be back."

After two outings with Panther, Wheldon went on to become one of the most consistent and successful drivers in the IRL during stints with Andretti Green Racing and Ganassi Racing, winning both the Indianapolis 500 and the IndyCar title in 2005. That experience is something Panther boss Barnes found hard to pass up, despite having Vitor Meira currently at the wheel of his car.

"It's hard to describe the level of excitement and emotion all of us at Panther have, knowing that Dan has come back to drive for us," he said, "I remember watching him drive for the first time in the Indy Lights series years ago, and I knew he was going to be a special talent. Since then, he's become one of the best open-wheel drivers in the world, and for him to make his return to our team at the height of his racing career is a tremendous compliment to our team."

Meira, meanwhile, has revealed that he is currently exploring possible openings elsewhere in a bid to remain in the series, even though a return to Panther is possible pending the search for sponsorship for a second car. Team officials, however, have told the Indianapolis Star that Panther is also pursuing options with either former Honda F1 pilot Anthony Davidson or GP2 Series race-winner Mike Conway, who impressed in a recent test at Infineon Raceway.

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