Panther joins Chevrolet ranks for 2012

Two-time champs join Penske and Andretti in “Bowtie Brigade”

Photo Credit: Shawn Payne/IZOD IndyCar Series.

Panther Racing became the third squad to announce that it would be powered by Chevrolet engines in next year’s IZOD IndyCar Series championship, re-uniting with General Motors, which helped them win 15 races and two series titles from 1999 to 2005 with Oldsmobile and Chevy-branded powerplants.

So far, Chevy has acquired the services of Panther, Team Penske and Andretti Autosport for 2012 and beyond.

GM’s peak in the IRL/IZOD IndyCar Series came in 2001 and 2002 as Panther’s Sam Hornish Jr. claimed back-to-back championships. But three years after Hornish’s second title, Chevrolet was down to running only with Panther’s two-car team of Tomas Scheckter and Tomas Enge. Scheckter scored an upset win at Texas Motor Speedway in 2005 (see above), but GM left following that year’s campaign. The team, now running a one-car operation for J.R. Hildebrand, has yet to win again.

But in a press release, team owner John Barnes sounded gung-ho about the chance to make Panther an “All-American team” once more, with the National Guard as sponsor, California native Hildebrand as the driver, and a Bowtie back on his cars.

“Chevy races to win and so do we, so we’re ready to get to work and pick up right where we left off,” said Barnes.

Hildebrand was also excited to be part of a brand that was, in his words, “always part of [his] upbringing.”

“My first real introduction to racing was my Dad racing a 1968 Camaro out on the West Coast…It’s going to be cool to be part of that Chevrolet family myself now,” the Indy 500 rookie of the year said in the release.

Hildebrand will look to rally from behind to take IZOD IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year honors at the IZOD IndyCar World Championships presented by Honda on Oct. 16. He currently sits six points behind ROY leader James Hinchcliffe of Newman-Haas Racing.