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2007 Panther Racing Season Recap

 

The 2007 season saw Panther Racing undergo another major expansion, its second in the team’s 10-year history, to a two-car effort in the IndyCar Series and the year marked Panther’s return to the developmental Indy Pro Series, the team’s first return to the league since a dominant 2003 championship.

Vitor Meira’s amazing one-car effort from the previous year was now joined by new primary sponsor Delphi and the addition of the Super Aguri Company, which brought along talented Japanese open-wheel veterans Kosuke Matsuura to drive the No. 55 car in the IndyCar Series and Hideki Mutoh to pilot the team’s Pro Series effort.

Panther owner John Barnes celebrates after Homestead with Delphi's Brad Stout

A year filled with high expectations for Meira didn’t turn out as planned, but the Brazilian was able to squeeze several highlights into what could have been a disappointing season. Despite a fourth place finish in the opener at Homestead, Meira was bitten by bad luck during some of his best days on the track. Consecutive suspension failures at Iowa Speedway and Richmond robbed two legitimate chances of victory, as Panther’s short-oval package continues to be one of the most consistent in the league. The Iowa failure was especially hard for the Delphi team, after Meira led 72 laps in the contest and it appeared the No. 4 was the car to beat.

But it wasn’t all bad for Vitor, who collected his fourth straight Top Ten finish at the Indianapolis 500 in May, after nearly finishing fourth place during the first rain delay; a result that would have been Panther’s best in the Indy 500. Consecutive fifth place finishes at Milwaukee and Texas Motor Speedway were a strong addition to Vitor’s ten Top Ten finishes.

Mutoh Wins at Kentucky

Matsuura, the former Indy 500 and IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year, simply couldn’t buy a break in 2007. After a promising start, Kosuke was taken out of the first two races by rival driver Jeff Simmons, and the second accident – at the street course in St. Petersburg – had Matsuura so frustrated he cursed on live ABC television. But despite the early setbacks, Kosuke battled back late in the year. He equaled his career-best finish of fourth place at Michigan and kept it clean at the inaugural event at Belle Isle for another Top Five result.

For Panther, the 2007 highlight reel belonged to newcomer Hideki Mutoh. The 24-year-old driver hadn’t been to an oval racetrack in his life before sitting in his No. 55 Formula Dream Panther machine, and he drove like a seasoned veteran. Mutoh took fifth place finishes in his first four starts before starting from the pole and dominating every lap of the Liberty Challenge at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for his first career victory, and Panther’s first win at Indy.

Still determined to break through on an oval, Mutoh saved his best performance for the August 11th race at Kentucky Speedway, where the open-wheel star started from the pole again. While the final box score will show that Mutoh led all but one lap for his first oval victory, it didn’t come easy. Battling all night with Wade Cunningham and eventual- series champion Alex Lloyd, Hideki made a dramatic last-lap, three-wide pass for the victory in the final turn.

Mutoh then made his IndyCar Series debut at the final event at Chicagoland Speedway, where he proved to many of open-wheel’s best drivers that he belongs with the big boys. Mutoh finished eighth in his debut, ahead of both Panther regulars, who fell out of the race early.


Vitor Meira
START
FINISH
Homestead
10
4
St. Petersburg
9
16
Motegi
13
17
Kansas
8
8
Indianapolis
19
10
Milwaukee
9
5
Texas
13
5
Iowa
13
9
Richmond
9
9
Watkins Glen
8
17
Nashville
15
10
Mid-Ohio
18
17
Michigan
11
18
Kentucky
12
10
Infineon
13
9
Belle Isle
10
15
Chicago
15
8

John Andretti
START
FINISH
Indianapolis
24
30

Hideki Mutoh
START
FINISH
Chicago
13
8
Kosuke Matsuura
START
FINISH
Homestead
16
16
St. Petersburg
10
17
Motegi
9
18
Kansas
12
18
Indianapolis
17
16
Milwaukee
6
12
Texas
15
9
Iowa
16
15
Richmond
18
17
Watkins Glen
11
8
Nashville
18
16
Mid-Ohio
13
12
Michigan
14
4
Kentucky
17
11
Infineon
12
10
Belle Isle
14
5
Chicago
16
17

Hideki Mutoh (IPS)
START
FINISH
Homestead
3
3
St. Petersburg I
4
2
St. Petersburg II
5
4
Indianapolis
4
5
Milwaukee
5
19
Indianapolis I
1
1
Indianapolis II
8
3
Iowa
8
3
Watkins Glen I
4
2
Watkins Glen II
5
6
Nashville
4
6
Mid-Ohio
9
5
Kentucky
1
1
Infineon I
10
19
Infineon II
19
10