Road Atlanta II: Season finale preview

BRASELTON, Ga.- Thousands of fans from around the world will gather at Road Atlanta next week for what has, in only six years, become one of the most important sports car races on the world calendar: the Petit Le Mans. The race will be run on ...

BRASELTON, Ga.- Thousands of fans from around the world will gather at Road Atlanta next week for what has, in only six years, become one of the most important sports car races on the world calendar: the Petit Le Mans. The race will be run on Saturday, October 18, and will be the 2003 season finale for the American Le Mans Series.

Road Atlanta, located between I-85 and I-985 in Hall County north of Atlanta, will be alive with exotic, sleek racing sports cars with names such as Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette, BMW, Viper, Panoz, Saleen, MG and many others as they battle in a 1,000-mile endurance race that begins in late morning and runs well into darkness.

Fans crowd around the 2.54-mile, 12-turn circuit, perched on hills, on the backs of campers and in bleacher seats to watch the action in a race that lasts nearly 10 hours. When they want a break, they stroll around the grounds to a different vantage point, shop for souvenirs or just check out the sights and people-watch in the crowd of more than 50,000. Many camp, making a weekend of it, while many more come just for race day.

Meant to be a "petit" version of the world's most famous endurance race, the 24 Hours of Le Mans in France, the Petit Le Mans was the brainchild of entrepreneur Don Panoz, who bought Road Atlanta in 1997. Panoz already had a presence in the Braselton area with Chateau Elan, the world-class winery and resort he opened in 1981. The first race in 1998 became the foundation of the American Le Mans Series, which Panoz launched in 1999.

The American Le Mans Series is a series of North American sports car endurance racing events patterned after the 24 Hours of Le Mans. American Le Mans Series events feature multi-class racing among the top sports car racing drivers and teams in the world. The starting lineup for every event includes both factory and privateer racing teams going for overall wins as well as wins in one of four classes of competition.

In an effort to expand upon the rich history and tradition of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers and rights holders for the trademarks and rules for the 24-hour race agreed to license their internationally famous brand name and rules to Panoz.

The ALMS is holding nine events in 2003, including seven in the United States and two in Canada.

The inaugural Petit Le Mans, held October 10, 1998, was Panoz' first use of the Le Mans name. The event drew more than 40,000 spectators to Road Atlanta, a road course that had flirted with bankruptcy until Panoz infused new life (and dollars) into it.

The good vibrations and bottom line of the first Petit Le Mans brought instant credibility to the American Le Mans Series, which launched the next year and has experienced steady growth ever since.

Fans get a taste of the 24 Hours of Le Mans at all ALMS events, including downtown promotional events complete with race cars and the same rules and race format as the historic French event. The open paddock area allows fans the opportunity to see the race cars up close and have the chance to obtain driver autographs.

The Petit Le Mans will get the green flag at 11:30 a.m. (ET) on Saturday, Oct. 18. Practice, qualifying and support series races will be held beginning Wednesday, Oct. 15. Ticket information is available from Road Atlanta by calling 1-800-849-7223 or online at www.roadatlanta.com.

Live television coverage of the event on the SPEED Channel begins with a pre-race show at 11 a.m. (ET). The American Le Mans Series Radio Web will have a live broadcast online at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Don Panoz