Indy teams decide to pair up for 2012 season

John Barnes and Dennis Reinbold grew up in the IndyCar Series together. Now the two Indianapolis-based owners and longtime friends are teaming up to help one another, just in time for the biggest race of the season.

On Monday, less than a week before Indianapolis 500 preparations begin, the teams announced Panther Racing would let Reinbold driver Oriol Servia use its second Chevrolet engine in the No. 22 car, and that Servia would serve as a teammate for Panther driver JR Hildebrand. The teams will work out of Panther's shop.

It was a deal forged out of necessity for both teams.

"We've wanted to operate as a two-car team for some time now, but the right opportunity has never arisen to allow us to accomplish that," Barnes said. "As soon as we had the opportunity to work with Dreyer & Reinbold Racing and Oriol Servia, a guy I consider one of the best all-around drivers in IndyCar, this was a no-brainer for us."

The decision may have been even easier for Reinbold, who has fielded multi-car teams at the Indianapolis 500 in recent years.

In November, he agreed to use the new Lotus engines this season. But two weeks ago, when it became apparent Lotus was playing second-fiddle to powerhouse manufacturers Chevrolet and Honda, Reinbold and Bryan Herta Autosport were released from those contracts.

Reinbold has been looking for a way to put Servia back in contention before this month's 500. Barnes had the engine Reinbold wanted, and when Chevy approved, the deal was completed.

"This is the best of both worlds -- I'm already with a great team, a great crew and great owners at Dreyer & Reinbold -- and affiliating with Panther is perfect because I've sat down with John Barnes many, many times to try and put a program together and we've never been able to do it for one reason or another," Servia said. "I'm also looking forward to joining the Chevy family; they've been performing so well and shown an unbelievable commitment to win."

The pairing also means two of last season's top IndyCar drivers will be working together for the rest of 2012.

Servia, a 37-year-old Spaniard, finished fourth in the points with Newman/Haas Racing in 2011 when he had six top-five finishes and five others in the top 10. At Indy, Servia started from the front row after qualifying third. He finished sixth.

Hildebrand, a 24-year-old American, started all 17 races and finished second to James Hinchcliffe in the 2011 rookie of the year chase. The former Indy Lights champ had five top-10s last season but is best remembered for hitting the wall on the final turn of the last lap at Indy. After the crash, his No. 4 car skidded across the finish line in second, behind the late Dan Wheldon. It was Barnes' fourth consecutive second-place finish at Indy.

Panther, a two-time series points champ, believes Servia's assistance can help them finally help them reach Victory Lane in their hometown race.

"It's great to be joining forces with those guys and this is the next step toward being a contender at the front of the IndyCar field on a consistent basis," Hildebrand said. "This is going to be nothing but a huge gain for all of us."

It's not the first time these teams have worked together. Late last season, Panther and DRR formed a technical partnership.

The pairing also reunites Hildebrand with DRR, the team with which Hildebrand made his IndyCar debut in 2010. Hildebrand drove twice for DRR, finishing 16th at Mid-Ohio and 24th at Infineon.

Servia was the 2005 Champ Car runner-up, the same season he won at Montreal.