Panther Racing forges ahead with 2014 IndyCar plans

Robert Laberge

Panther Racing lost its planned funding for 2014 when the National Guard jumped ship to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing but still plans to compete in the IndyCar Series next season.

Panther Racing is moving forward in its plans to compete in the IndyCar Series next season despite the "tug-of-war with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing" over the National Guard sponsorship according to RACER.com.

The lucrative National Guard IndyCar funding is awarded annually and Panther had held it since the 2008 season. Rahal Racing was awarded the funding for next season and has announced that they will pair it with driver Graham Rahal.

Panther Racing owner John Barnes is protesting the switch and is believed to have several General allies in the National Guard camp who are supporters of Panther.

As it stands, Panther has laid off several employees in advance of the off-season, which is standard procedure for the team and looking at driver options for both the primary No. 4 entry as well as a second team.

"We're doing well overall, moving hard on our second-car program and have some drivers we're going to test in the next three weeks," Barnes told RACER. "Our engineers are working hard on new projects and our mechanics are doing the same."

The layoffs, which were announced last week, had led to speculation that the team was being shut down. But Barnes insisted that the staff reduction was an annual occurrence that takes places every season as a result of a long and uneventful off-season.

A source for RACER confirmed that nearly the same number of layoffs took place after last season as well.

"We tend to over-hire for the race season so it's easier on our core guys, especially when we have a bunch of back-to-back-to-back races," Barnes said. "But you can't keep everyone once the season is over if you have very little to do.

"The NFL doesn't do it, baseball doesn't do it, the PGA doesn't do it. The first place you look to save money is your most expensive resource, and that's employees, especially if you're forced to sit around for so long with nothing to do, for the most part. So we've had to do this the past few years, and I wish we didn't."

The report added that former Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe would have likely been confirmed by now if not for the issues surrounding the National Guard sponsorship. Briscoe competed in six races for the team last season but the sponsorship concerns has forced the team to keep his involvement under wraps.

The report says that should the National Guard decision fall in Panther's favor, Briscoe's confirmation is all but a formality and that the team would then be able to focus on the potential second car. But if the National Guard remains with Rahal, the No. 4 seat may remain open until the budget is completed by sponsors or a driver who brings his/her own funding.

Oriol Servia, Carlos Munoz and JR Hildebrand also drove for the team during the 2013 season.

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