Panther’s Barnes honored with “Spirit of Hope” award

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It was not the easiest year for Panther Racing on track in IndyCar this year, but team principal John Barnes did have something to celebrate on Tuesday.

Barnes was awarded the “Spirit of Hope” award in a ceremony at the United States Pentagon. The Spirit of Hope award is given annually to individuals whose, “commitment and dedication to service in support of the Armed Forces and their families embodies the ideals and values exemplified by the late Mr. Bob Hope.”

“This was an unbelievably humbling experience,” Barnes said in a release. “I can’t thank Admiral Winnefeld and everybody with the Department of Defense enough for this honor. When you work as closely as we do with National Guard soldiers and their families you can’t help but do everything in your power to support them however possible. I feel like Panther can always do more, and we’re always looking for ways to improve all of our programs and to represent all those men and women in the best way possible. But we don’t do it for awards like this; we do it because it’s right.”

At every IndyCar event, Barnes and the Panther team honor a “hometown hero” on behalf of the National Guard. Most recently the team formed its “Operation: Hire Our Guard” veteran unemployment program that fights unemployment issues facing National Guard soldiers.

The team released its first bit of sponsorship news earlier Wednesday with confirmation Charter Media has joined up in a multi-year partnership that includes at least one race as primary sponsor. Other details regarding its sponsorship portfolio or driver lineup for 2014 have yet to be revealed.

After JR Hildebrand was dismissed following the Indianapolis 500, Ryan Briscoe, Oriol Servia and Carlos Munoz took control of the No. 4 National Guard Chevrolet the rest of the season. None of the three matched Hildebrand’s best result of fifth, achieved at Long Beach in April.

Robert Wickens in the Indy 500? Bryan Herta making plans to field a car for next year

Robert Wickens Indy 500
Brett Farmer/LAT Images/IMSA
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Bryan Herta wants to enter Robert Wickens in the Indy 500 as early as 2024 – a year longer than preferred as work continues on the hand controls needed for the paralyzed driver.

Wickens suffered a spinal cord injury in a crash at Pocono Raceway in his 2018 IndyCar rookie season. He’s worked as a driver coach for the Arrow McLaren IndyCar team since, but last year with Bryan Herta Autosport and Hyundai returned to racing in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge.

The 33-year-old Canadian won a pair of races (including the season opener at Daytona) driving a Hyundai Elantra N-TCR that is fitted for Wickens to race strictly through hand controls. Herta said Thursday that perfecting that technology for an Indy car in the biggest race in the world has slowed the project he’s determined to do with Wickens.

‘I’M AS HUNGRY AS EVER’: Robert Wickens’ return to racing

“I’d love to take Robbie back to Indy because I know he could do that, and I think that would be a next step for him in his journey,” Herta told The Associated Press. “We’ve spent a lot of time looking at the logistical side of things, hand controls, and I think we have solutions for that.”

Herta said Honda has been supportive of the process, which Herta called “one of the most important things we’ve done in racing” last year.

“We actually looked at doing it this year, but the logistics of it, the timing, it just wasn’t enough,” Herta said. “That’s not something you can rush. There’s some things that we have to work very closely with IndyCar on, and things we just have to get right. It’s a process, but I can see a path to it.”

Wickens, when told his boss was openly discussing the Indy 500, grinned widely. Herta as a team owner won the Indianapolis 500 with Dan Wheldon and Alexander Rossi.

“That’d be fun,” he said of running the Indy 500.

But like Herta, Wickens said the effort has to be both done correctly and be competitive.

“We’d like to do it right. If we started right now, can we get a car ready for the open test in April? Probably,” Wickens told The AP. “But I don’t know where the systems would be and I want to get on proper simulators to make sure its correct.

“We all want to do a proper, professional effort,” he added. “I don’t want to do it for a marketing campaign. I want to do it for a chance to win.”

Wickens later tweeted about the possibility of racing the Indy 500 and said his goal was “always to get back to the top level of motorsport” whether it’s IndyCar or IMSA.

Wickens in 2021 did a demonstration in Canada that marketed advancements for paralyzed drivers and gave him a chance to again drive. His entire life had been upended 14 races into his rookie IndyCar season, just three months after winning top rookie honors at the Indianapolis 500.

Wickens has since married, returned to racing last year and welcomed the birth of his first child, an son named Wesley whom is infatuated with both race cars and the trip to Disney he took this week during the off days at Daytona International Speedway.

Wickens, who uses a wheelchair but can stand with some support, marks a full year back racing on Friday in the season-opening IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race. Despite success last season, Herta made changes to his lineups and Wickens this year will be teamed with Harry Gottsacker.