Wheldon expects to fight for title
|By Matt Beer||Friday, February 20th 2009, 11:04 GMT|
Former IndyCar Series champion Dan Wheldon is confident that he can fight for the 2009 title despite moving to Panther Racing.
Although Panther won the 2001 and 2002 championships with Sam Hornish Jr, they have been unable to break Penske, Andretti Green and Ganassi's stranglehold on the series in recent years, and last took a victory in the June 2005 Texas race.
Wheldon made his debut with Panther in late 2002, and has now rejoined the team after losing his Ganassi drive to Dario Franchitti. Despite Panther's relative lack of success in recent years, Wheldon is aiming for a title challenge this season.
"I've got some great enthusiasm for this season, and I can't say how determined I am," he told Indianapolis radio station 1070 The Fan.
"You're definitely going to see a kid that's on a mission.
"I've been part of two of those big three teams, and I understand what it takes to run up front. But I didn't go to Panther just to make up the numbers. I certainly have my beliefs about what is going on at Chip Ganassi Racing, although it was a good time for me there. But there's no doubt in my mind that we need to be winning, and in the races that we're not winning, we need to be up front, and I believe we can do that.
"It's going to be important to start strong and get these guys believing that we can contend for championships and for wins, and if we can do that, then I definitely think we'll only get stronger."
Wheldon reckons that the restrictions on testing introduced this season will narrow the large teams' advantage.
"I think with what's happened with the economy and with what's happening with the rules packages that the IRL has enforced, I think it's done everything that it possibly could to benefit a team like Panther Racing," he said. "From that standpoint, I think we're going to be in a much stronger position."
He is also confident that he can be quick on all the series' tracks this season, having been off the pace on road and street courses while at Ganassi.
"I really want to make Panther Racing my home and be competitive everywhere," said Wheldon. "Everyone always gets on me about the road courses, but we've worked hard on that at the race shop.
"I want to be good everywhere, and I believe that myself and everybody at the team is capable of doing it, so watch out."