Hornish splits with Panther

One day after crushing his IRL IndyCar rivals at Kentucky, reigning champion Sam Hornish Jr. delivered another shocker, this time at the expense of his own Panther Racing team. Hornish and Panther jointly announced that the two will part ways at the conclusion of the 2003 season.

Hornish splits with Panther

Hornish joined the team in 2001 and has since earned an IRL record nine victories, including Sunday's dominant triumph at Kentucky Speedway. The American won the IRL title in his first full season in 2001, and became the first driver in history to win back-to-back titles last season.

"To leave Panther Racing at the end of this year is the hardest decision that I have ever made," Hornish said. "Panther Racing is a great team with great people and tremendous partners. I am extremely proud of the success that we have been able to achieve together and truly appreciate the chance that I was given to demonstrate my talents on the track. I would like to leave Panther with a third consecutive IRL championship and that is where my focus will be from now until season's end."

Panther Racing echoed Hornish's statements from this past weekend in saying their driver will make his future plan known by the end of August. Hornish has been linked with IRL squad Andretti Green Racing, and leading NASCAR outfit Dale Earnhardt Inc.

"We have had a magical ride since Sam joined Panther Racing in 2001, and we hope to secure a third championship this season," said team co-owner John Barnes. "But things change and sometimes people need to step out of a comfort zone and stretch a bit. We wish Sam the best in whatever he decides to pursue."

Panther will now switch its focus to finding a replacement for Hornish. One of the leading candidates for the seat is likely to be Briton Mark Taylor, who currently leads the Infiniti Pro Series standings for Panther.

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