Judge dismisses Panther Racing suit against Rahal, IndyCar

April 3, 2015

A federal judge has dismissed a lawsuit brought by Indianapolis-based Panther Racing Inc., which claimed it lost a $13.1 million sponsorship with the Army National Guard because of bid-rigging and other improprieties.

The Panther Racing team in February 2014 sued Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, IndyCar and others after losing the sponsorship. Judge Tanya Walton Pratt of the U.S. District Court in Indianapolis dismissed the suit on March 25.

The Brownsburg-based Rahal team sought the Army National Guard sponsorship in the fall of 2013, but Panther Racing appealed to the U.S. Government Accountability Office to keep the contract it had held since 2008. The GAO denied Panther’s appeal, leading to the lawsuit. All military sponsorships are reviewed annually.

Panther Racing’s suit, which sought unspecified damages, accused IndyCar of breach of contract, contending Panther had exclusive rights to provide Fan Village access and benefits to the Army National Guard, which was a requirement of the contract.

The Fan Village is an area designated for exclusive use by parties that have entered into sponsorship agreements with IndyCar, in which race teams and their sponsors set up promotional displays and exhibits, and where food and entertainment is provided.

In 2013, 300,000 fans visited the IndyCar Fan Village, according to Panther’s suit. The village is a valuable and highly coveted component of the IndyCar sponsorship deals, the complaint said, and is not available to all race teams or sponsors.

Panther Racing accused IndyCar of interfering with its contract with the Army National Guard. It charged that IndyCar CEO Mark Miles wrote a letter in November 2013 while Rahal was pursuing the contract saying Rahal had the right to provide that access to the Fan Village.

The lawsuit also alleged 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.

Judge Walton Pratt disagreed.

“The Miles letter merely stated what IndyCar believed it had a right to do, which was to grant another race team, Rahal, space in the Fan Village for its potential sponsor, [the Army National Guard],” she wrote.

The facts show that the Army National Guard chose not to be a sponsor of Panther Racing for the 2014 racing season, Walton Pratt said in her ruling. She noted that Panther Racing’s argument that it had exclusive rights to provide sponsorship benefits to the Army National Guard in 2014 “defies common sense.”


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