It would appear that despite going winless in 2006 John Barnes and the Panther Racing Team have now conquered the nation of Japan.
In addition to landing assistance from Aguri Suzuki AND the Panasonic sponsorship AND driver Kosuke Matsuura they have now also produced a partnership with Aguri to develop another of his drivers: Hideki Mutoh. From the press release:
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. (Dec. 12, 2006) – Super Aguri Panther Racing announced today that it has signed 2003 Formula Dream Champion Hideki Mutoh to drive its Indy Pro Series entry for the 2007 season. This marks Panther Racing’s return to the Indy Racing League’s developmental series, after the team won a dominant championship in 2003 with Mark Taylor, who won seven of the 11 races in which he competed that season.You think Kosuke might have some job security issues? It's one thing to know you could get fired for underperforming, but it is entirely another to have a guy working for the same boss being groomed to replace you. Chances are Matsuura has decals on his mirrors reading "OBJECTS ON TEAM ARE CLOSER THAN THEY APPEAR".
Mutoh, a 24-year-old from Tokyo, Japan, is a veteran of the Formula Ford, Formula Dream, Asian Formula 2000 and the Japanese Formula 3 series. Most recently, in 2006, Mutoh competed in both Formula Nippon and the Super GT Championship, where he started from the pole and won his final race at Fuji Speedway.
Still, it's good to see more teams like Panther conducting dual participation in both series in the IRL. Any of the tens of people who watched the Indy Pro races this past season would tell you they were often more exciting than the IndyCar features.