It's thought to be the best sponsorship package in the IndyCar paddock and it's heading to another team in 2014.
RACER has learned that the National Guard is leaving Panther Racing following the Oct. 19 finale in Fontana, Calif. in favor of the team of Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan.
And 25-year-old American Graham Rahal will become the new face of The Guard for the IndyCar Series.
Panther owner John Barnes, who landed the National Guard as his primary sponsor in 2008, did not return phone calls but a source familiar with the inner workings of the Guard confirmed the change.Bobby Rahal, who began fielding a car for his son this season, was unavailable for comment, as was Lanigan and young Rahal.
The Guard sponsorship has reportedly been anywhere from $10-13 million per year and includes a substantial at-the-track program for current Guardsmen and women, in addition to honoring past war heroes.
Barnes, who started Panther Racing in 1998, captured back-to-back Indy Racing League championships with Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002 in addition to winning 15 races with Scott Goodyear, Tomas Scheckter and Hornish, but the last of these wins came in 2005. Since The Guard came on board, Panther hasn't won a race – scoring eight top-three finishes with Vitor Meira, the late Dan Wheldon, Ed Carpenter and J.R. Hildebrand. The latter came within one corner of winning the 2011 Indianapolis 500 before hitting the wall and finishing second but was fired following an early accident last May at Indianapolis.
Australian Ryan Briscoe and Spain's Oriol Servia have shared the No. 4 Dallara/Chevy since Indy and Briscoe was supposedly in line to get the ride for 2014.
The Guard bids its contract annually and its believed several teams, including Sam Schmidt, Andretti, Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan and Panther all submitted proposals for 2014.
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing is currently a two-car team with James Jakes and Graham Rahal but this new deal figures to allow the 1986 Indy 500 winner to hire a winner like Justin Wilson, James Hinchcliffe, Briscoe or Servia to join young Rahal, who has been sponsored by Blu Cigarettes, Midas and Big O Tires in 2013.