2004 Indy 500 winner Buddy Rice joins Panther Racing for the 100th anniversary race.
Photo courtesy INDYCAR
Buddy Rice, the 2004 winner of the Indianapolis 500 is returning to the Brickyard for this year's 100th anniversary race. Rice, the former Atlantic champion has been racing in the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series for the past couple of years, driving the Spirit of Daytona entry. He's currently aligned with Action Express, last year's winner.
For this year's 500-mile race, Rice occupies the second Panther Racing entry and his presence should certainly help full-time rookie driver JR Hildebrand - as well as the Panther Racing engineering team. Piloting the No. 44 entry (no sponsor named yet), Rice admitted he's Pumped to be at Panther. The intention is that we'll be able to run more than Indy, but this is the first step and I'm here to help JR and help the team. The whole key for me coming back (to pen wheel racing) is that I wanted to be in competitive equipment and have a chance to win."
Rice has had offers over the years but explained, "I wasn't coming back and driving unless I had the chance to run up front - that's always been my goal. Panther is a team that can win the race, so when I had the opportunity I couldn't say no."
Buddy Rice is the third former Indy 500 winner to drive for John Barnes-led Panther Racing at IMS. Buddy Lazier (1996 winner) and 2005 Indy 500 champ Dan Wheldon have both driven for the team at IMS. Rice last competed in the IZOD IndyCar Series for Dreyer & Reinbold Racing in 2008. He has a total of 97 starts in the series, owns three victories (including Indy), five pole positions and finished third in the 2004 championship.
"Buddy and I have tallied for years about him joining the team and never had an opportunity that aligned itself, so when this came about to run a second car at the Speedway, he was high on our list and he was excited about being a part of Panther," Barnes said. "He's going to make a huge impact on JR and his development, and from the time we decided Hildebrand was the future our our team, we wanted to bring along a mentor, somebody that could help our entire team. This was a no-brainer for us and we hope it isn't a one-and-done thing; we want Buddy for more races this season.: