AMERICAN LE MANS SERIES ADELAIDE¹S RACE OF A 1000 YEARS - December 31, 2000
An Interview with Don Panoz
WHY DID YOU CHOOSE ADELAIDE FOR THIS EVENT?
"If there is a capital for motorsports in Australia, it is definitely in Adelaide. "Everything in that town meshes well together, the people, the countryside, the city - it is not all glitz and glamour, but to a guy from a small town of 2500 people in West Virginia - I appreciate what Adelaide is all about.
"Adelaide is for real and that is where we want to be. "I also have a promise for the people of Adelaide, this race will never leave South Australia because somebody else bids more money.
"We want to be in Adelaide for as long as the people of South Australia want us.
WHY IS THE LE MANS EVENT SO TOUGH?
"This year in March I was at the Grand Prix in Melbourne and was invited by Ford to meet with Jackie Stewart and his team.
"Jackie told me that his cars had a special feature which showed the driver a light when they got within 13 metres of the car in front to maximise the aerodynamics to pull out and try to pass.
"The thing that makes Le Mans style racing so tough is with that system, a Panoz, BMW or Audi prototype would have run straight into the back of a GT or GTS car by the time the light came on.
"With three different classes and closing speeds of up to 60 mph, it is very similar to the experiences you will have on the highway.
"Is the car in front too slow? should I try to pass? should I wait ... people can relate to that.
"The public can also aspire to putting some of these cars in their garage - you can own a Porsche or a Panoz or a BMW - not many people can have a McLaren Formula One car in the garage.
"We take all these cars, put them on the grid with stable rules, great professionalism, good scrutineering, strong race course management ... and we have created one hell of a series.
"You don¹t have to wait twelve months to go to Le Mans and see it - you have 13 chances next year for each round of the series.
WHAT ARE YOUR PHILOSOPHIES REGARDING THE RACE FANS?
"To have any show you have to have good racing, but too often in motorsport the people involved look amongst themselves and do not pay attention to the people in the stands.
"I got my first impression of this when I went to the Sebring 12-hour for the first time and pulled up alongside Ferraris, Porsches ... a heap of exotic sportscars ... and we all parked in the mud.
"I walked through the mud, went to restroom facilities that were very sub- standard, and the whole place was not the type of venue where you would want to take your wife or girlfriend.
"And this is at a race where there were teams competing with millions of dollars of exotic machinery.
"Then I went to a NASCAR race and had an assigned parking spot, blacktop parking lot, walked across the bridge and had somebody show me where my seat was. You could get good food in a nice clean area and watch guys race in a circle with $80,000 tube framed cars.
"Something told me that there was something wrong with that comparison.
"One of the first things we did with all the tracks that we go to was to make sure the restrooms, the food and the parking areas were up to standard.
"We have to make sure there is plenty of staff to direct people where to go, and to do so with a smile - be a lot more professional.
"We also take the series into the city, not just out at the racetrack. We take the cars into the town square or mall, catch the people coming out of work, and give them a taste of what it is all about.
"People also don¹t have to walk through the mud to go to the movies, or go to a football game, basketball or baseball.
"You have to compete with other sports and entertainment for the leisure dollar, but I think we have a really good show and there is nothing more exciting than Le Mans style racing.
DAVID BRABHAM HAS STARRED WITH THE PANOZ TEAM, WHAT ARE HIS STRENGTHS?
"Most of the drivers have the same physical and mental skills or capabilities, but I think the difference between them is their individual ability to focus.
"David is very dedicated and mindful of his diet, his exercise program, his commitments - he is very reliable, very steadfast, very organised person.
"The old image of a race car driver with a cigar in one hand and a woman in the other with a bottle of champagne doesn¹t work anymore.
"It is ultra-competitive out there, especially when you are talking about hundreds of a second.
"David¹s ability to turn consistently fast race laps is unbelievable - I do not know anybody out there that can do it like he can.
"In this series traffic can be your friend or your enemy and David copes with it extremely well. I am obviously a bit prejudiced about David, but there are a lot of great drivers in this series.
"The championship is not for gentlemen racers or old Formula One drivers, all of them are extremely professional.
"Their entire lifestyle is built around being ready to race and being able to get the utmost out of a racecar.
WHAT ARE YOUR PASSIONS IN LIFE?
"My two passions in life are drinking and driving - although not at the same time.
"Driving a car or driving a golf ball are both very important pursuits.
"I think sportscars, a good game of golf and a bottle of wine with friends are very compatible interests.
"We have built golf courses all around the world, but I am just a mediocre golfer, but my game has probably suffered a little since I got involved in motorsport.
"I have probably only played once in the past year. I still enjoy it, but there are so many interesting and exciting things to do in life, that I never put those aside to hit the golf course.
WHAT WOULD WINNING THE LE MANS 24 HOURS EVENT MEAN TO YOU?
"Winning Le Mans would be like climbing Mount Everest for me. "We set out to do it a couple of years ago, and we have so far failed to reach the summit.
"Le Mans is the holly grail of sportscar racing. I have a team, I own tracks and run major events but I have to admit that if I could get one trophy on the shelf, the Le Mans trophy is the one that I want and our entire teams feels the same way.
"You have to constantly set and re-set goals to be successful and while winning Le Mans is our prime target - our next goal is to make cars to supply them to our associates and privateers and let them win Le Mans with a Panoz.
"We compete at Le Mans to build a heritage for Panoz road cars - that doesn¹t happen overnight but it is starting to build.
"We understand what our capabilities are in the road car business because we know what niche of the market we are aiming for.
"We only build about 200 roadsters a year. They are a difficult car to make because of the packaging and meeting all the government regulations.
"The Esperante¹s performance is equal to the Roadster, but it is luxurious. It was designed with production in mind and comes together in a very orderly fashion.
"The plan is to build around 1000 a year.
"There is another project on the drawing boards which will be a Spider Roadster along similar lines to the Le Mans sportscar.
"Panoz Auto Development probably are targeting to build about 2000 cars a year."
HOW DO YOU RELAX AWAY FROM WORK?
"I don¹t need days off because you only need to recuperate from things that are tiring and difficult for you.
"It is not that you don¹t have your normal range of problems every day.
"I share mutual ambitions with people in all the projects I am involved with. Good friends, a few laughs, exciting challenges - what better way is there to relax. But the ultimate relaxation is none of your business!"
HAS THE WITHDRAWAL OF SOME LEADING MANUFACTURERS HURT SPORTSCAR RACING?
"I don¹t think the withdrawal of some of the factory teams has any significance because history shows that manufacturers drift in and our of the sport. While one door closes, another one opens.
"Some of the factories which competed this year obviously made some mistakes, but when you look at the results and compare them with the teams that have competed in the American Le Mans Series, you see a bit of a trend.
"You can test all year, but there is no substitute to racing.
"BMW contested the series, and won the major prize.
"I think the days of manufacturers putting all their effort into one race and being successful are behind us.
"We have raised the game and I am sure there are going to be other manufacturers out there planning to meet the challenge. You could see Alfa Romeo, or Bugatti, or any number of people coming back like Cadillac are this year - 50 years after they last competed.
"The underlying base of any event is the privateers and with the extensive array of chassis options available from Lola, Reynard, Riley & Scott and Panoz - the foundations for the 24 hour and the series is remarkably strong.
"You can be negative and say the sport is not moving forward because Mercedes or Toyota withdraw, but the fans are still voting with the feet.
"The differences between the manufacturers motorsport divisions and the marketing departments are traditionally worlds apart."
-Paul Ryan - email@example.com -