David Saelens tests new Panoz Esperante GT-LM

Saelens Gets First Look at New Panoz Esperante GT-LM; Will Race in American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio Braselton, GA. - Former French Formula 3 champion David Saelens got his first look at his new ride in the American Le Mans Series on Wednesday and...

Saelens Gets First Look at New Panoz Esperante GT-LM; Will Race in American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio

Braselton, GA. - Former French Formula 3 champion David Saelens got his first look at his new ride in the American Le Mans Series on Wednesday and the Belgian racing star was suitably impressed.

Panoz Esperante GT-LM test: David Saelens with Gunnar Jeannette and team manager Andy Waldrep.
Photo by ALMS.
Saelens spent the day testing at Road Atlanta in the new Panoz Esperante GT-LM, the car he will share with Gunnar Jeannette as the Panoz factory racing team returns to action for the first time since 2002. The team will make its debut June 25-27 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, the next race on the ALMS schedule.

"It's a nice project," said Saelens, 28, who spent the 2003 season racing a Panoz Prototype in the ALMS for the former JML Team Panoz organization. "There's a lot of potential in the car. I was very impressed with the handling. We were not here to try to do fast times, but it's so easy to drive the car and it works so well that the good times came anyway. It looks promising."

Jeannette, who was in France this past weekend testing for the upcoming 24 Hours of Le Mans, was also on hand for the Esperante test along with veteran ALMS driver Kelly Collins. The Panoz team brought Collins in for the test to draw on his experience and gain input and data to aid in the development of the car.

Saelens and Jeannette drove one race together last year for JML Team Panoz before Saelens was permanently paired with Olivier Beretta. The two scored seven consecutive podium finishes in ALMS competition.

Saelens is running a full schedule this season in Porsche Supercup, the touring series that races in companion with Formula One events. There are some date clashes between the two series, but the Panoz team has only formally announced plans to race the new car at Mid-Ohio, though other races could be added to the schedule.

"I'm very happy that Don Panoz (team owner) called me and asked me to drive," said Saelens. "I wanted to come back to America again this year but I didn't know if I would have the opportunity. Now I have the chance to race in Europe and in America, and I can also help with the testing and development of this car."

Panoz Esperante GT-LM test: crew members work on the new Panoz Esperante GT-LM.
Photo by ALMS.

Though Saelens has driven full-bodied race cars in the past, he has only raced the faster Prototypes in multi-class racing such as the American Le Mans Series. Therefore, driving the GT-class Panoz Esperante GT-LM will be a different experience.

"It will be quite new for me," he said. "Before, I never had to worry about people passing me, but now I'll have to be looking in the mirrors more to see where the other cars are.

"But it's experience," he said. "My time last year in the Prototype will help me in a GT car because you know where they (Prototypes) will pass you, and you can see them in the mirror and know how fast they will close on you. That experience will be a big plus for me."

The GT-LM is based on the Panoz Esperante road car built by Panoz Auto Development and is powered by a 5.0 litre modular V-8 engine from Elan Power Products. It will race on Pirelli Tires. The car has been under development and testing for several months in anticipation of its competitive debut.

The GT-LM was built by Elan Motorsports Technologies (EMT), a multi-faceted motorsports company founded by Don Panoz and located in Braselton, Ga. Panoz G-Force, an EMT subsidiary, also designed and built the winning chassis for the 2003 Indianapolis 500 and 2003 Indy Racing League. The impressive EMT portfolio also includes Van Diemen International, the world's largest volume manufacturer of single-seater formula and sports racing cars. EMT subsidiaries are currently building the next-generation car for the Star Mazda Series and the new STRANA Super Trucks.

American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio will be Round Two of the 2004 season for the ALMS and will include a two-hour, 45-minute timed event on Sunday, June 27. The race will be televised live by CBS Sports in North America and MotorsTV in Europe and will be broadcast live by the American Le Mans Series Radio Web online at www.americanlemans.com.

Ticket information for the Mid-Ohio event is available online at www.americanlemans.com or by calling 1-800-MID-OHIO.


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About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers David Saelens , Kelly Collins , Gunnar Jeannette , Don Panoz , Olivier Beretta