Highly experienced Formula One, CART and sportscar ace Max Papis will contest the opening three races of the 2003 sportscar year with JML Team Panoz.
The Italian racer, nicknamed "Mad Max", will drive the lead Panoz LMP-01 with Olivier Beretta and Gunnar Jeannette at the three endurance events - the 51st annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the six hour ALMS race at Mexico City and the Le Mans 24 Hour.
Papis initially made a name for himself in the U.S. aboard sportscars, nearly winning his inaugural Daytona 24 Hour race and taking pole at Sebring in 1996 and is now eagerly awaiting the chance to return to endurance racing.
"We have opposition that is definitely going to be very difficult to beat, but the JML team is very motivated and I believe with the strong support of the Elan engine and Michelin tire programs we stand a great chance to really give some people out there some real headaches," Papis said.
"Having driven the Panoz recently, I feel the potential of the car is great and I am really looking forward to working with Olivier Berretta who I know from my days in Formula 3000 in Europe.
"Gunnar Jeannette is a young and very determined guy and I think the three of us together will make a great team.
"Overall we have a great chance but we know we will have to be very focused because the opposition is very tough.
"For me, the Le Mans 24 Hour is one of the biggest races I have ever done and I am really looking forward to going back. Finishing sixth in 1997 was a huge thrill."
The team is finalizing preparations for the forthcoming Sebring event despite the recent stroke suffered by team owner, John McLoughlin. The chance to work with McLoughlin originally was one of the key factors in Papis joining the JML Team Panoz Squad.
"It has been a very difficult week for all us but I will be out there fighting as hard as I can for John because that is what he would want," Papis said.
"John is somebody who I have competed against in the past and I have greatly admired him as a competitor and a friend.
"He is going through a very difficult time at the moment and at times like this it is very hard to think about racing, but the entire team will be working hard to achieve his goals and his dreams."
The remainder of the JML Team Panoz driver line-up is expected to be finalized in the near future.
"We are delighted to be able to secure somebody of Max's caliber," JML Team Panoz, Team Manager, Andy Waldrep said.
"He tested the car recently and adapted really well. His experience in F1, CART and sportscar racing is going to be a real bonus for our program."