Chesson, Münter test with Panther Racing
Panther Racing wrapped up its last order of 2007 business Dec. 18 at Sebring International Raceway, where the team completed an Indy Pro Series test with prospective drivers P.J. Chesson and Leilani Münter.
While both drivers have displayed considerable talent on oval tracks, neither has extensive road course racing experience.
"It was positive for us to get both P.J. and Leilani on the track," Panther co-owner John Barnes said. "And, for us, it's good to get our Indy Pro Series team some time to work before the end of the year and run around a little bit. I really wanted to get our new Technical Director, Henri Durand, a chance to work with the IPS guys and the car to have some data to work with before we start running in 2008."
Chesson ran for the better part of a day-and-a-half, and despite having just two road course starts in his career, the New Jersey native was able to adapt well to the new discipline. Consider that, last season, road-course ace Hideki Mutoh also tested at Sebring with Panther, and his best time was only three-tenths quicker than Chesson's top time from this week.
It was an impressive time, but Chesson is the first to admit that consistency is a bigger concern than overall speed.
"I achieved more in the first test than I thought I would," Chesson admitted. "Consistency is going to be the toughest thing for me. The challenge isn't just to put in a respectable lap, it's to put in a good lap and then do it 20 more times. But I feel like given the opportunity we're going to get there."
Münter was also happy with her results, while admitting she has work to do to perfect her road course technique. Having spent significantly more time in a stock car than open-wheel, re-programming her footwork and perfecting the art of shifting on a non-oval track was a key first step.
"It's cool to learn something new like road course racing because I've been going in circles for so long," Münter said. "The biggest step for me is going to be my footwork, because when the footwork is messy, it hurts the rest of your racing. I need to get into a go-kart and practice my shifting so I can get used to it - it's a lot different from what I'm familiar with in a stock car. It continued to get better and better after I was able to practice for awhile. I'm excited about this challenge."
Münter now knows what she has to work on in the Indy Pro Series car, as the Minnesota-born driver is a front-runner for the Panther ride. Chesson has an even taller task. He's in line for Panther's second IndyCar Series seat alongside veteran Vitor Meira, and that means there is still another major step up to the bigger, and more powerful, IndyCar Series cars.
"I know there is still a lot of learning to do," Chesson said. "But when you've got a good bunch of guys and a good car, like they do at Panther, anything is possible."
"The test was a good evaluation of both drivers to see where they are as far as their road course racing ability," Barnes said. "They've both got work to do, but at the same time, we came away happy with what we were able to accomplish this week. It gives us something to think about over the holiday break, and we'll get more serious about making decisions after the first of the year."