Panther sues IndyCar, Rahal Letterman over sponsor deal

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Indianapolis-based Panther Racing Inc. has sued Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, IndyCar and others, saying it lost a $17.2 million sponsorship with the Army National Guard because of bid-rigging and other improprieties.

The lawsuit filed Feb. 19 in Marion County Court in Indianapolis follows a ruling earlier this year by the U.S. Government Accountability Office. The GAO denied Panther's appeal of moving the Army National Guard sponsorship to Graham Rahal's car for the upcoming IndyCar season.

The Brownsburg-based Rahal organization sought the sponsorship last fall, but Panther Racing appealed to keep the contract it has held since 2008. All military sponsorships are reviewed annually.

Panther Racing had used a variety of drivers in the car since J.R. Hildebrand crashed on the final lap while leading the Indianapolis 500 in 2011.

The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified economic and punitive damages, accuses IndyCar of breach of contract, contending Panther Racing had exclusive right to provide Fan Village access rights and benefits to the Army National Guard, which was a requirement of the contract, but that IndyCar CEO Mark Miles wrote a letter last November saying Rahal had the right to provide that access.

The lawsuit alleges IndyCar is liable for all economic damages to Panther arising from that breach. A message seeking comment was left Friday for an IndyCar spokesman by The Associated Press.

The lawsuit also alleges Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing was aware of Panther Racing's exclusive rights to provide access to the Fan Village and falsely claimed ownership of the contractual right.

Rahal racing officials said in a statement released Friday that Panther is raising many of the same issues it raised with the GAO.

"The GAO also noted that there was no evidence supporting many of Panther's allegations, and that the National Guard's decision was driven by the basic fact that Panther's base per-year price was approximately $5 million more than RLL's price," the statement reads.

Landing the funding was a big step that will help the overall growth of the Rahal organization. Bobby Rahal added his son to the team last year, and he has overhauled the program since midway through last season, when he brought in engineer Mitch Davis. He's also added engineer Bill Pappas and recently named veteran John Dick head of research and development.

Rahal called the lawsuit "unfortunate and disappointing."

The lawsuit also names a company called Document Packaging Brokers, known as Docupak, based in Alabaster, Ala., which it says performed services to administer the National Guard sponsorship agreements, and someone in the National Guard contracting office of conspiring with Rahal racing to influence the bid process.

A telephone message was left Friday for a Docupak spokesman by the AP.

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