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Mojo risin’ as Panther, DRR join forces

Chris Estrada
| May 10, 2012

Perhaps we should call it the A-Team: It being the newly aligned, Chevrolet-powered pairing of longtime IZOD IndyCar Series squads Panther Racing and Dreyer & Reinbold Racing.
After all, that may be how Panther owner John Barnes sees it in his mind.
“To have two drivers, two ‘A’ drivers in a team is just incredible, and to have two ‘A’ teams like we do, again, is incredible,” he said on Tuesday. “It's great mojo going on here right now. I think it will show really well starting this coming Saturday.”
The strategic alliance between the two teams, which officially begins this weekend with practice at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, is the culmination of a process that began toward the tail end of 2011, when the teams entered a “casual partnership” according to DRR co-owner Dennis Reinbold.
DRR then decided to join the Lotus camp in the off-season and also landed the services of Oriol Servia, who finished fourth in last year’s championship with Newman-Haas Racing. But after a trying start to this year’s campaign, the team requested and received their release from the British manufacturer’s ranks.
“And once the things happened with that program as they played out, we reconfirmed that we would like to work again with Panther,” Reinbold explained. “And so this has really come about over a series of many months. It's not    it's not just this happened in the last week or two. We've been discussing this and kind of posturing how it would fit together for probably eight months or more than that.”
The benefits are plentiful for both sides of this alliance, which will last for the remainder of 2012.
For DRR, it represents a chance to be more competitive with a Chevy engine that comes just in time for the Indianapolis 500, where Panther has strung together four consecutive runner-up finishes with Vitor Meira, the late Dan Wheldon, and its current driver, second-year pilot J.R. Hildebrand.
Servia also believes that after going through their early season struggles, a tougher DRR has emerged.
“We saw that it was going to be really difficult this year the way it started,” the popular Spaniard said. “I think the benefit of that is sometimes, when you go through tough times, it either breaks a team or makes it stronger. And I think it's made us a lot stronger. We had to grow together through the first four races and go through pain together.
“It's not what you want to have, but I think it's putting us in a great position coming into the 500, where we're very hungry, and now we know we're going to have the right tools to be fighting for the win and not just be dreaming about it.”
Panther got as close as they’ve ever gotten to realizing their own Indy dream last year, when the then-rookie Hildebrand almost shocked the racing world before crashing on the final lap to give the victory to Wheldon.
But the young American doesn’t think about the finish, instead choosing to focus on refining his race craft. Now Hildebrand has one of the best veterans in the series to help him further along, one that’s worked with several other “rising stars” over the course of his career.
Then there’s the most obvious benefit of all, which both teams will enjoy: More invaluable information from a second car. Considering that new cars and engines are coming to the ‘500’ this year, that extra data will come in handy as Panther and DRR – along with everyone else -- search for the quick way around the 2.5-mile oval.
“I think the big thing for us is just getting through the weekends a little more easily,” said Hildebrand. “I mean, as kind of the one car operation, we showed last year that we could run up front with just one car, but it was hard to do week in and week out. It was hard to have that consistency.
“…As we all know, if you start out behind or you get behind at some point during the race weekend...with the Penske guys having three cars out there, Andretti same deal, Ganassi with sort of a four car army, you just really don't have the information to turn things around quickly.”
That would appear to no longer be a problem.
The Panther/DRR combo is an intriguing one, combining two teams with lots of experience and a mutual thirst for success. It also brings together two drivers that each have something to prove. Hildebrand’s out to show that he is indeed capable of Indy greatness, while Servia is itching to get back to the front of the field where he was last year.
It’s hard to go against the aforementioned big teams at Indy like Team Penske, Chip Ganassi Racing and Andretti Autosport. But by joining forces, Panther and DRR are making a legitimate upset bid for the 96th Running.



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