SMOOTH SAILING FOR MAIDEN ABRUZZI VOYAGE
New Panoz launches at America’s great sports car race
It’s no small task to bring a brand new car – untested – to the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida, but that’s essentially what Panoz Racing has done with the new Panoz Abruzzi “Spirit of Le Mans.” Built and campaigned by sports car veteran Tom Milner and his Prototype Technology Group (PTG), the Abruzzi will make its competition debut today in the opening round of the American Le Mans Series presented by Tequila Patrón, racing in the GT category.
“We’re pretty happy because we’ve come down to the most important race. We’ve never run the car before, but everything seems to be working fine,” Milner said. “We’re trying to figure out what we need to do to the car now. Mechanically everything is fine; now we’re trying to find the magic.”
Facing the best competition in the world with a new car, the team is taking a realistic approach to the car’s maiden run at Sebring.
“I think we’ve come to the realization that we’re treating this as one gigantic test,” Milner concluded. “It’s probably the best way to test because we get to compete against all the other cars out there and then you know where you stand.”
Driver Ian James, too, is impressed with how the new car is going through its paces.
“It’s a brand new car and we’re pleasantly surprised how close we are initially in terms of the feel of the car,” James said. “The last car we had was the Esperante GTLM, and this car is a big step forward in terms of driver comfort, layout of the car and the feel of the car. We’ve just started to tune it now. Obviously we have a long way to go, but the basics of the car feel really good.”
James has also noticed a cult following of Panoz fans developing at Sebring.
“To be honest, I think the Panoz cars have the biggest following in the paddock because people keep coming around and saying it’s cool and different,” he said. “People say you can see a Ferrari or a Porsche pretty much anywhere, but there’s only one Panoz you can come see.”
Those fans may have to wait until after the Le Mans break to see the Abruzzi again. Milner suspects the team will forgo the Tequila Patrón American Le Mans Series at Long Beach to do more testing and development.
The team is visibly cool and optimistic about its new car. While one might expect Milner and Panoz Racing to be on edge, racing an untested car in one of the most grueling sports car races around, Milner’s smile reveals he is anything but nervous.
“If I was really young and said ‘This is my first date,’ I’d be really nervous, but it’s not my first date.”