Things becoming desperate in the IRL

Now, irony of irony, John Barnes is seeking Honda‘s help to carry on with Panther Racing in 2006. While critics decry the single-manufacturer format that’s likely to be in place next season, it has one notable advantage: Everyone is on the same footing. With Honda, Panther probably won’t be asking a potential sponsor to pony up $6 million. That fact might be the team’s savior, since that kind of money isn’t easy to come by, and it’s not going to be directed freely toward a racing series that many consider – rightly or wrongly – still to be fledgling 10 years into its life.

At times, it’s difficult to think of the IRL as anything other than fledgling, especially after the developments of ’05. Its original engine manufacturer left in an embarrassing huff. Another manufacturer is leaving because it covets NASCAR more than the Indy 500. A series that was supposed to have been growing suddenly lost three races. The western half of the U.S. doesn’t seem to be much of a priority anymore. The move to road and street courses, which appeared to be a solid addition and one of the true bright points of 2005, didn’t result in further expansion in 2006.

The murkiness and uncertainty are reflected in personnel decisions. Resumes are floating around Indy race shops like so much ticker tape. Talented people are out of work, wondering if they will – or should – return to the business. Vitor Meira, who shouldn’t have been a free agent for 30 seconds, is still a free agent as the holidays roll closer. There wasn’t funding to continue a third car at Rahal Letterman Racing, so Meira – one of Honda’s favorites because of his feedback – is facing another round of interviews. One of the teams that wants him is Panther. If only it could put together the funding. More at SPEEDTV.com

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