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Wheldon to join Panther Racing

Dan WheldonDan Wheldon is to join Panther Racing next year after losing his Ganassi drive to Dario Franchitti.

Hours after it was announced that 2005 Indianapolis 500 winner and IRL IndyCar Series champion Wheldon had been replaced at Ganassi by the returning 2007 champion, Panther confirmed that Wheldon would be joining their team for 2009.

Wheldon will drive the No.4 car that has been occupied by Vitor Meira for the past three seasons. The Briton originally started his IndyCar career at Panther in 2002, when he spent most of the season as the squad's test driver before participating in the last two races to support teammate Sam Hornish Jr's successful title bid.

"I'm very excited to be joining the entire Panther Racing crew," Wheldon said. "This is the place where I started my career in 2002 and with the personnel and leadership that John Barnes has put together, I know that we'll be fighting for outright victories, the Indianapolis 500 title and the league championship.

"I'm looking forward to when my obligations with my current team have been honored, so I can get with the entire Panther family and start moving towards all of our goals of winning races and championships together. It's great to be back."

Team boss Barnes said he was delighted to have Wheldon back in the fold.

"It's hard to describe the level of excitement and emotions all of us at Panther have knowing that Dan has come back to drive for us," he said.

"I remember watching him drive for the first time in the Indy Lights series years ago, and I knew he was going to be a special talent. Since then he's become one of the best open-wheel drivers in the world, and for him to make his return to our team at the height of his racing career is a tremendous compliment to our team.

"I know he's excited about getting into the No.4 car for the first time and we've got a tremendous future ahead of us."

Wheldon left Panther for Andretti Green Racing after 2002 and went on to take the 2005 series title, before making a shock move to Ganassi at the end of that season. Although he won his first race for Ganassi, he was unable to repeat his previous championship success and struggled particularly on the road and street courses.

Panther have been one of the leading challengers to the series' dominant 'big three' Penske, Ganassi and AGR in recent years, although they have not won a race since Tomas Scheckter's triumph at Texas in 2005.

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