Panther Racing co-owner John Barnes (LEFT) tells RACER the championship-winning IndyCar Series team is working on plan to expand into the United SportsCar Racing series for 2014.
“It's something we've looked at very seriously before, and with everything coming together under a single series next year, I really think it's the time to try and add a [USCR] program to complement our National Guard IndyCar program,” Barnes said in a RACER exclusive. “I had a meeting with [Grand-Am founder] Jim France at Detroit, and I really think they are taking things in a great direction and it's something that Panther Racing and our partners want to be a part of.”
Finding a manufacturer to support a new USCR venture is the goal of many teams, but Barnes says that Panther's ability to join the USCR isn't contingent upon securing a works program.
“I think that financially, it's a very viable solution,” he added. “It has a customer base that will support the sponsors and partners we can attract. It has a bunch of famous races: the 24 Hours of Daytona, Sebring, Petit Le Mans, Watkins Glen and some premier events to look at.
“With direction from Mr. France and the NASCAR marketing department, it has the ability to be very successful and I think it can be done with some drivers you choose and also with some who have some sponsors and are looking for a competitive situation. It's a very solid business opportunity for us that would run as a separate program to our IndyCar team.”
Barnes still has plenty of work to do to pull the program together and has held more meetings–with the series and at least one Rolex Series team – this week in Indy while the Grand-Am series is in town to race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
He also revealed the Panther team will branch out into the new Stadium SUPER Trucks series, fielding an entry during the penultimate IndyCar Series round in October.
“We're going to run one of Robby Gordon's trucks at Houston, and we're looking at that series as well,” he noted. “We're in the business of motorsports. The only thing we wouldn't consider is Sprint Cup, and that's because I'm too old to do all those races…”
With sports car teams still waiting to receive details on the USCR's schedule, television package and technical regulations, Panther will have a short window to commit to the series for 2014. Testing for the Rolex 24 begins in late November/early December, giving Barnes a lot to think about in the next few months.
“We're in the process of vetting [the USCR] series and it's truly a great opportunity for us,” he affirmed. “They're very concerned about cost containment and rules stability, and that's a great direction and something that works for us.
“But there are still some unknowns. We're still waiting to hear all the details on how it will work, but as soon as they come to us and tell us about those final plans, we'll be able to decide on whether we can go next year or if 2015 is the better decision. We want to do it, but the ‘when' part is all about timing at this point.”