PANOZ TEAM HAS HIGH HOPES FOR ESPERANTE AT LE MANS Braselton, Ga. - With one victory already in the 2005 American Le Mans Series and a promising second half of the ALMS schedule on tap, Panoz Motor Sports has set its sights on the grandest...
PANOZ TEAM HAS HIGH HOPES FOR ESPERANTE AT LE MANS
Braselton, Ga. - With one victory already in the 2005 American Le Mans Series and a promising second half of the ALMS schedule on tap, Panoz Motor Sports has set its sights on the grandest prize of all in sports car racing: a class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Georgia-based manufacturer is entering two Esperante GTLMs (with their unmistakable American rumble that has made Panoz a fan favorite in France) for the world's most famous and historic sports car race. Both cars will adorn different numbers and livery for the 24-hour event in the Sarthe region of France with the addition of the Bank of Scotland as team sponsor.
The No. 50 will change to the No. 77 with Bill Auberlen, Robin Liddell and Scott Maxwell sharing driving duties. The sister car, No. 78 at Le Mans, will be driven by Marino Franchitti, Bryan Sellers and Patrick Bourdais. The Bank of Scotland will remain the team's sponsor for the rest of the 2005 ALMS season.
The team will have to travel about 4,400 miles to compete in the 73rd running of the 24-hour endurance race. But it will be more concerned with capturing the podium against a field that includes such names as Ferrari, Porsche, TVR and Spyker in the LM GT2 class.
"Everyone is waiting to see how fast it can go down the Mulsanne Straight. That is what no one knows," Auberlen said. "The car has proven to be fast here in the States. We've done all our homework. If it runs without malfunctions, everything else will take care of itself and we'll finish on one of those podium steps."
Panoz has beaten Porsche once this year in the ALMS. Auberlen and Liddell piloted the No. 50 Esperante to a GT2 class victory in the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta at Road Atlanta, home track of the ALMS and Panoz Motor Sports. The victory wasn't a fluke as the car posted fast times in nearly every practice session and set GT2 track records in both qualifying and the race.
A harrowing battle in the closing laps between Liddell and Alex Job Racing's Timo Bernhard came to a head when the No. 23 Porsche made illegal contact with the race-leading Esperante, sending it into a spin. Bernhard was promptly issued a penalty, resulting in a credited 27.5-second margin of victory for the No. 50 Panoz Esperante. Panoz Motor Sports' first GT2 class victory was especially memorable as it occurred during the 70th birthday celebration of ALMS founder Don Panoz.
At its debut at the 53rd Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the Esperantes showed impressive speed and performance in practice and in the early part of the race. Mechanical problems, however, left both cars well back in the pack at the end of the day. It was much of the same story at the most recent ALMS race, the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio, where both cars again struggled.
But Le Mans offers a new hope to Panoz Motor Sports, one that could send the team to the height of success it envisioned with the Esperante debut last year.
"Most everyone on the team was brought in because they have a winning background, and everyone has known the car has potential," Sellers said. "The focus has always been to win, and the feeling of winning at Atlanta may make everyone want to do it more."
The 24 Hours of Le Mans will be broadcast on SPEED Channel starting at 10 a.m. EDT June 18. The next race for the American Le Mans Series is the New England Grand Prix, set for 3 p.m. July 4 at Lime Rock Park. The race will be broadcast live on SPEED (3 to 6 p.m. EDT) and on MotorsTV in Europe, reaching 40 million viewers in 21 countries as well as at www.americanlemans.com.