JR Hildebrand - EDM

Might Panther Racing be the Cleveland Browns of IndyCar?

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Two years ago, Panther Racing were able to run a special one-off paint scheme for the IndyCar Series race at Sonoma Raceway adorned in the red and gold of the San Francisco 49ers.

Today, a Cleveland Browns livery might make more sense.

Because at times, Panther seems to operate about as functionally as the team on the Cuyahoga.

You see, the Browns are in the news today because CEO Joe Banner and General Manager Michael Lombardi left the team, and this comes only a month after the Jimmy Haslam-led organization fired new head coach Rob Chudzinski after less than a calendar year on the job. Haslam later said, also via ProFootballTalk, that the Browns aren’t a dysfunctional franchise.

Most NFL observers would say the Browns… well, are dysfunctional. And shifting back to IndyCar, most observers can see rather plainly that compared to the rest of the field, Panther is too.

It’s a mix of good and bad events that have happened over the last eight or so years with Panther that makes it appear dysfunctional:

  • BAD: There were reports that Vitor Meira and the late Dan Wheldon, who were Panther’s drivers from 2006 through 2010, weren’t paid in full for their efforts.
  • GOOD: In 2008, the team acquired the prestigious National Guard sponsorship and for six years through 2013 it has provided a great service in at-track activation, supporting the Guard heroes at each event.
  • GOOD OR BAD: Wheldon was a fantastic ambassador for the Guard, but like Meira before him, he wasn’t American. That didn’t sit well with some.
  • GOOD: To rectify the non-American situation, Panther hired JR Hildebrand ahead of 2011, and he almost won the Indianapolis 500 … when of course, he famously binned it on the last corner of the last lap and Wheldon swept through to the victory.
  • BAD: In 2013, when the team unceremoniously dumped Hildebrand after an early crash at the 500, the team abandoned its plan altogether. For a couple months after, you had the awkward situation of Hildebrand appearing in Guard-sponsored ads, all while either Ryan Briscoe or Oriol Servia was driving the Guard-sponsored car with no degree of continuity.

And now, we have today’s revelation from RACER.com’s Robin Miller that Panther submitted a $17-plus million proposal to the Guard for continued partnership into 2014, which was rejected.

All of this makes Panther’s future less clear now that at any other point in its history, which dates to its first year in the then-Indy Racing League in 1998.

Panther will still press ahead into 2014 with a single-car effort, albeit one with a significantly reduced operating budget.

It comes after a decade-long run of futility that, like the Cleveland Browns, makes you forget how good it was years ago.

Consider, from 1999 through 2003, Panther Racing won 14 of 63 races in the all-oval IRL (22.2 percent), with back-to-back championships achieved by Sam Hornish Jr. in 2001 and 2002. The latter of the two came in Team Penske’s first year in the series, after switching from the then-rival CART series.

But 2005 marked the team’s last race win, with Tomas Scheckter at Texas Motor Speedway. A year later, 2006, was the last time a driver finished in the top five of the points standings (Meira in fifth).

In subsequent years, the best position a Panther driver has finished in points has been: 12th (2007), 13th (2008), 10th (2009), 9th (2010), 14th (2011), 11th (2012) and 22nd (2013).

The Browns are still more futile, despite occasional flashes of success. Since returning to the National Football League in 1999 (only a year after Panther was launched), the team is 77-163 overall, with only two winning seasons, 9-7 in 2002 and 10-6 in 2007.

The 2002 season – like the last year Panther won a championship – was the only year the Browns have made the playoffs since coming back into the NFL (naturally, they lost to the archrival Pittsburgh Steelers).

It is said that if you don’t consistently adapt or improve your program to match your competition, you get left behind. And it’s not a coincidence that since the IRL fused into IndyCar, when the all-oval era ended and the road-and-street course heavy schedule began starting in 2005, that Panther has gone from lead dog to also-ran with only the occasional big result.

Mind you, this is still a team that finished second at IndyCar’s flagship race, the Indianapolis 500, for four consecutive years from 2008 through 2011. But aside of that, success has been fleeting.

And much like the Cleveland Browns, you wonder if Panther Racing will require a complete reboot to regain the glory of years past.

Vettel: No frustration over Ferrari’s lack of reliability

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Sebastian Vettel of Germany driving the (5) Scuderia Ferrari SF16-H Ferrari 059/5 turbo (Shell GP) on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Sebastian Vettel does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability problems at the start of the 2016 Formula 1 season, saying “it’s part of racing”.

Ferrari entered 2016 hopeful of mounting a serious challenge to the all-conquering Mercedes team, only for issues on its cars in Australia and Bahrain to limit it to a one-car finish.

Vettel’s plight continued on Friday in Russia when an issue forced him to stop out on track during practice, ultimately resulting in a gearbox change and a grid penalty.

Vettel qualified second at the Sochi Autodrom on Saturday behind pole-sitter Nico Rosberg, but will drop back to seventh for the start of the race.

“Of course I would have liked the gap in the end to have been a bit smaller but we saw in Q2 Nico in particular was very strong getting the lap in,” Vettel said.

“I think for us it was the maximum. We benefitted from what happened to Lewis [Hamilton]. I’m not sure what exactly it was, but it allowed us to go P2 which helps tomorrow with the penalty.

“We’re a bit closer starting on the clean side of the track. I think we can have a good race from there. It should be quite exciting. The car feels good. I think all weekend has been quite strong. We lost some time, but I think we made it up this morning so it shouldn’t be an issue.”

Vettel said that he does not feel frustrated about Ferrari’s reliability issues, saying that there is still a long way to go in the season.

“Not frustrated at all. Obviously it’s not nice if these things happen because they don’t make your life easier,” Vettel said.

“But equally it’s part of racing. These things can happen. They didn’t happen on purpose, they weren’t planned. We’re been pushing very hard to try and catch up which I think especially in race pace we’ve proven already this year.

“Obviously we didn’t have a properly clean race yet this year. Maybe we’ll have tomorrow, you never know, it’s a long race and a long way especially around here. There’s a lot of things that can happen.

“I think we have to wait and see. It’s still April, tomorrow is May, and there’s a long, long way to go. It’s a long championship. It’s important to do your best to get the maximum points every single time and the rest you’ll find out anyway.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Hamilton set to start 10th in Russia as luckless run continues

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain driving the (44) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during final practice ahead of the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton’s run of bad luck continued in qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday as an issue on his power unit prevented him from taking part in the final session.

Hamilton has slipped 36 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg after the first three races of the 2016 season, with an issue on his power unit forcing him to start last in China two weeks ago.

Hamilton arrived in Sochi hopeful of cutting the gap to Rosberg, and looked set to run the German close for pole position on Saturday afternoon.

After lapping almost half a second slower than Rosberg in Q2, Hamilton was sent back out by Mercedes later in the session despite not being at risk of losing his place in Q3.

It soon unfolded that Hamilton was in fact heading out to test his power unit, and he soon reported a loss of power similar to the one that prevented him from taking part in qualifying for the Chinese GP.

As a result, Mercedes had to bring Hamilton into the pits and end his day after Q2, leaving him 10th in the final qualifying classification.

While Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season, Hamilton was left deflated, telling reporters: “I went out at the end of Q2 to get a feel and I lost the same power as I lost in China.

“There’s nothing I can do. I never give up.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg not expecting easy Russian GP despite Vettel, Hamilton woes

SOCHI, RUSSIA - APRIL 30: Nico Rosberg of Germany driving the (6) Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 Team Mercedes F1 WO7 Mercedes PU106C Hybrid turbo on track during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Formula 1 championship leader Nico Rosberg remains wary of the threat posed by the opposition in tomorrow’s Russian Grand Prix despite seeing chief rivals Lewis Hamilton and Sebastian Vettel both drop back on the grid.

Defending champion Hamilton was forced to sit out of Q3 in Sochi after an issue similar to the one he suffered in China arose on his power unit.

As a result, Hamilton will start tomorrow’s race from P10 at best, leaving him with a huge task if he is to cut into Rosberg’s 36-point lead at the top of the drivers’ championship.

Vettel took advantage of this to qualify second for Ferrari, but he drops back to seventh on the grid after taking a new gearbox earlier in the weekend.

Rosberg eased to his second pole position of the season by seven-tenths of a second despite only completing one fast run in qualifying, but he is refusing to get ahead of himself.

“I was just focused on myself out there, really going for it and feeling great about it,” Rosberg said.

“It’s really going really well today. From Q2 onwards it felt awesome. The others have been unfortunate today, definitely, extremely unfortunate.

“That makes my race a little bit easier tomorrow, but an F1 race is never easy. Even from where Sebastian is and where Kimi [Raikkonen] is and with Valtteri [Bottas] behind and everything, the opposition is still there.

“So I still need to keep focused and try and get the job done as good as possible.”

Rosberg was able to get out of his car long before the end of qualifying safe in the knowledge he had pole thanks to the advantage Mercedes has enjoyed at the Sochi Autodrom.

“To be honest I was quite confident that the lap was good enough out there because in Q2 Ferrari was quite far away and I knew that Lewis was not able to participate in the last part of qualifying,” Rosberg said.

“So I was very sure it was going to be enough. You never know, there’s still the remaining uncertainty so I was glad eventually when Sebastian crossed the line that it was good enough.”

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday.

Rosberg eases to Russian GP pole as Hamilton hits trouble

during qualifying for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on April 30, 2016 in Sochi, Russia.
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Nico Rosberg will start Sunday’s Russian Grand Prix from pole position after easing to P1 in the final stage of qualifying at the Sochi Autodrom.

Rosberg arrived in Russia 36 points clear of Mercedes teammate Lewis Hamilton at the top of the Formula 1 drivers’ championship, and is chasing a seventh consecutive grand prix victory on Sunday.

The two Mercedes drivers exchanged fast times in both Q1 and Q2, with Rosberg finishing half a second clear heading into the final fight for pole in Q3.

However, there was no battle as had been anticipated after a power unit issue arose on Hamilton’s car, meaning that he could take no part in Q3.

Using the same unit that had caused trouble in China two weeks ago, Hamilton reported a loss of power at the end of Q2, forcing him to sit out of the final session.

As a result, Rosberg was able to ease to his second pole position of the season by posting a fastest lap of 1:35.417 in the final stage of qualifying.

The German went eight-tenths of a second faster than nearest rival Sebastian Vettel with his first lap in Q3, but an error on a later lap meant he could not improve on his time.

Nevertheless, it was more than enough for pole, with Vettel finishing seven-tenths of a second back for Ferrari in P2. However, he will drop to seventh for the start of Sunday’s race due to a grid penalty.

Valtteri Bottas enjoyed his best qualifying of the season to date to finish third ahead of fellow Finn Kimi Raikkonen in the second Ferrari, while Williams teammate Felipe Massa qualified fifth.

Daniel Ricciardo led Red Bull’s charge in P6 ahead of Force India’s Sergio Perez, with home favorite Daniil Kvyat finishing eighth. Max Verstappen finished ninth ahead of the luckless Hamilton in P10.

McLaren’s hopes of scoring a first Q3 berth since the end of 2014 were dashed late on in Q2 as Jenson Button missed by just one-tenth of a second. Carlos Sainz Jr. finished just ahead of the Briton in P11, while Force India’s Nico Hulkenberg followed in 13th ahead of Fernando Alonso in the second McLaren in P14.

Haas’ recent difficulties continued in qualifying in Sochi as Romain Grosjean and Esteban Gutierrez could only finish the session 15th and 16th. Grosjean struggled with the balance on his VF-16 car, sliding off the track late in the session, but managed to outqualify his teammate once again by six-hundredths of a second.

Renault once again struggled for pace in qualifying as Kevin Magnussen and Jolyon Palmer failed to make it out of Q1 once again, finishing 17th and 18th. Felipe Nasr’s new Sauber chassis did not give him the boost required to make it into Q2 as he ended up 19th. Manor drivers Pascal Wehrlein and Rio Haryanto impressed by outqualifying Marcus Ericsson in the second Sauber, who propped up the timesheets.

The Russian Grand Prix is live on CNBC from 7am ET on Sunday, with lights out at 8am.