Panoz looks for back-to-back wins

PANOZ LOOKING TO GO BACK-TO-BACK AT MID-OHIO Braselton, Ga. - The bull's-eye is back at Panoz Motor Sports for the first time in nearly three years. And boy, does it feel great. When the Panoz team unloads its transporters later this month...

PANOZ LOOKING TO GO BACK-TO-BACK AT MID-OHIO

Braselton, Ga. - The bull's-eye is back at Panoz Motor Sports for the first time in nearly three years. And boy, does it feel great.

When the Panoz team unloads its transporters later this month for the American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio, Round 3 of the American Le Mans Series, it will do so coming off its first victory since July 2002 in Washington D.C. But back then, it was the old Panoz Spirit of America LMP-01 that sent the team to the top of the podium.

Now, it's the new Panoz Esperante GTLM that is wearing an ALMS crown, and the team doesn't want to give it up anytime soon. The No. 50 entry of Bill Auberlen and Robin Liddell scored the first GT2 victory for the Georgia manufacturer at the Sportsbook.com Grand Prix of Atlanta in April at its home track of Road Atlanta. Everyone at the Braselton, Ga., plant was walking tall again.

"We were for the first couple of days. Then the enormity of our testing program, Mid-Ohio and getting ready for Le Mans all sent everyone's nose back to the grindstone pretty quick," said Ed Triolo, team manager.

Liddell held off a furious charge from Timo Bernhard in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche. The Scot was aided by Bernhard's stop-and-go penalty after IMSA officials ruled he deliberately spun Liddell in Turn 7 with about five minutes left in the race.

Liddell is convinced he would have been able to hold off the Porsche without the penalty. So are his teammates, and they all plan to back up that belief at Mid-Ohio.

"Coming into this year we did a lot of development in the offseason and now we are still continuing it as we speak," Auberlen said. "There is no reason that we shouldn't keep finding more and more speed out of the Esperante. We can't be fooled to think that Porsche will just sit back and let us have it."

Since the Esperante debuted last year at Mid-Ohio, the car has had plenty of speed. Right out of the box, it posted the fastest GT2 race lap but mechanical and developmental issues plagued the team at Mid-Ohio and throughout '04. At this year's Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, the two Esperantes again showed plenty of muscle but faltered with electrical and engine problems.

But things seem to be heading in the right direction. Both the No. 50 and the No. 51, driven by Bryan Sellers and Scott Maxwell, were among the fastest in the GT2 field at Road Atlanta. Sellers and Maxwell, though, lost time in the pits during an extended stop. Nevertheless, Sellers believes the No. 51 Esperante isn't that far from being as competitive as the No. 50 sister car. He added that had he not crashed the car in Friday testing, it would have contended for a spot on the podium.

"The thing to remember is that reliability is an issue in every car," Sellers said. "Where we're behind is that we haven't been running for 30 years like Porsche. It is a great car, and the weekend at Road Atlanta showed that. Things that happened at Sebring were very miniscule in that you didn't know it was going to happen."

The American Le Mans at Mid-Ohio is set for noon EDT May 22 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio. CBS Sports will broadcast the event from 1 to 3 p.m. EDT, and live coverage will be available on American Le Mans Series Radio at www.americanlemans.com.

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Series ALMS
Drivers Robin Liddell , Bill Auberlen , Scott Maxwell , Timo Bernhard , Bryan Sellers