Wheldon To Return To Panther
By John Sturbin/Senior Writer
Dan Wheldon is settling-in, and aiming-high, at Panther Racing. The Indianapolis-based team confirmed Wednesday that Wheldon will return to the cockpit of the No. 4 Dallara/Honda for the 2010 IndyCar Series season.
Wheldon, the 2005 IndyCar and Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 10th in the final 2009 point standings. His best result was a second-place finish to Helio Castroneves of Team Penske during the 93rd Indy 500 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in May.
“I’m excited for next season, honestly,” Wheldon said in a story posted on the team’s website, www.pantherracing.com. “Anytime I’m out of a race car for too long I get restless. But I feel like we made some progress towards the end of the season after some struggles that show we’re heading in the right direction.”
Wheldon made his series debut with Panther at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill., in 2002, and closed the season at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. Wheldon’s tenure at Andretti Green Racing (2003-05) began with his selection as Bombardier Rookie of the Year in ’03. Wheldon finished second to AGR teammate Tony Kanaan for the 2004 championship before authoring his career-year the following season. Wheldon’s 2005 season featured a series-record six wins and three in a row, including the 89th Indy 500.
Wheldon drove for Target Chip Ganassi Racing from 2006-08, exiting with career totals of 15 wins and five poles. In 2006, Wheldon tied Sam Hornish Jr. of Marlboro Team Penske with 475 points after 14 races, but Sudden Sam was awarded his third championship on the basis of a 4-2 victory margin over the Brit.
A 31-year-old native of Emberton, England, Wheldon led just eight laps last season _ his fewest since 2003 _ and never finished better than eighth over the final half of the 17-race schedule. Despite that lackluster performance, team principal John Barnes believes Wheldon can lead the team back to title contention. Panther Racing won consecutive championships with Hornish in 2001-02.
“What I can tell you is that we’re going to be fighting tooth-and-nail to improve,” Barnes said. “We’ve got a group here that we really like, and I’ve made clear in the last two weeks what my expectations are for our team and driver.”
Wheldon’s 2009 stats included three top-five and nine top-10 finishes, and that runnerup result to Castroneves at Indy by 1.9819-seconds. It was Wheldon’s fourth top-four finish at IMS in seven starts. “My goals are to win races,” said Wheldon, a resident of St. Peterburg, Fla. “Obviously we haven’t achieved everything we wanted for the season, so for next year I’d like to build on the momentum that we’ve created this year and make it a winning season.”
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