Panther remains confident about its 2014 program. (LAT photo)
IndyCar Series fans will have to wait to see what kind of sponsors and livery will be featured on Panther Racing’s No. 4 Chevy, but team owner John Barnes tells RACER the tug-of-war with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing over National Guard funding won’t delay Panther’s plans or preparation for 2014.
?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,? he said. ?Our engineers are working hard on new projects and our mechanics are doing the same.?
A significant number of Panther crew members were let go last week, leading to speculation the team was being shuttered. Barnes clarified the situation, pointing to the staff reduction as an annual occurrence that has taken place after the season finale. Another source confirmed almost the exact number of layoffs took place in 2012, and is below the figure of 31 layoffs that has been making the rounds.
?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 added. ?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.?
Barnes favors a busier off-season, which he says would allow Panther to minimize the number of redundancies. Hulman & Company CEO Mark Miles has outlined a plan that would have IndyCar Series teams taking part in a secondary championship to bridge the 2014-to-2015 season.
?You can’t keep a cast of thousands on between the seasons, especially with five months between the end of this season and the start of the next one,? he continued. ?I was speaking with [Mark] Miles about this, and said it’s tough to employ a strong workforce when you have so much time off, the cars are essentially spec so you can’t do anything to them, and the number of test days are so heavily restricted.?
It’s likely former Team Penske driver Ryan Briscoe, who drove for Panther in six races this past season after JR Hildebrand was released, would have been confirmed by now, but with the sponsorship questions facing the program, news of the Australian’s expected place within the team has been kept quiet.
Provided the National Guard funding falls in Panther’s favor, Briscoe’s confirmation would be considered little more than a formality and some of the drivers being considered for a second car would remain in that position. If the team finds itself in search of a new primary sponsor, the seat in the No. 4 entry could remain open until the budget is completed by sponsors or a funded driver.