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Panther Racing forced to lay off staff

Doubts that former champions Panther Racing will remain in the Indy Racing League are increasing after the team revealed that they have laid off staff this week

The team, who have won two championships and 15 races in their IRL career, are without a title sponsor for next year following Pennzoils' decision to quit - and that means they do not yet have to budget to continue in the series.

The financial situation meant the team laid off 14 members of their staff this week, although team co-owner Mike Griffin is insistent that the outfit's bosses are working on keeping Panther Racing alive.

"We've never, ever laid anyone off before but when you don't have any income what else can you do?," he told speedtv.com. "We wanted to be up front and honest about our situation. It's not like we shut things down, it's just that we don't have an operating budget at the moment.

"With our situation with Pennzoil, there's simply not enough cash to sustain 50 people and right now there's nothing for them to do anyway. We understand the consequences of letting guys go because they've got to look out for their families so we know they're out looking for jobs.

"We've still got 23 people on the payroll and, hopefully, we'll be calling people up to come back in a few weeks if one of our sponsorship deals comes through."

Team driver Tomas Scheckter has been told to accept a drive elsewhere if an offer comes up, even though Panther Racing would like to keep him on board in 2006 if they continue in the IRL.

"We told Tomas if he finds something to go for it because we don't know what's going to happen," said Griffin. "We just need one of these sponsor deals to come through and we could have a positive answer for everybody by December 5."

The plight of Panther Racing comes amid difficulties for several other IRL teams. Eddie Cheever has had a massive layoff of staff at the end of the season after he lost title sponsor Red Bull, while Ganassi Racing have cut back on nine mechanics after deciding to reduce their entry from three to two cars.

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