In temperatures rising from 75 degrees at midday on Saturday at the start of the race to 90 degrees by mid afternoon, the ALMS Petit Le Mans event succumbed to its usual exciting mix of thrills and spills in front of a record crowd. The week had...
In temperatures rising from 75 degrees at midday on Saturday at the start of the race to 90 degrees by mid afternoon, the ALMS Petit Le Mans event succumbed to its usual exciting mix of thrills and spills in front of a record crowd.
The week had begun very promisingly for the team and, despite several problems along the way, was to end with everyone just as upbeat on the Panoz Esperante team.
The previous week's testing had gone very well, as did the early sessions of the PLM race week. Following the Thursday morning practice session the team changed the engine ready for Friday's practice and qualifying. In all the practice sessions the car had run steadily in the top 6 GT's, but come qualifying on Friday afternoon Gunnar Jeannette could only qualify the car in a disappointing 10th. However by the end of Saturday morning's warm-up the car had leap-frogged it's way to 3rd in GT class.
The race began with Gunnar at the wheel of the Panoz Esperante GT LM and he quickly moved through the GT field, but a steering problem developed during Gunnar's stint and unfortunately this was to be the beginning of several minor problems which eventually dropped the car down the field. However, most encouraging of all for everyone involved on the Panoz team was that the fledgling car finished it's first race of the 2004 ALMS season and Marino was behind the wheel.
Marino had driven very strongly throughout the race, his lap times in the night matching those of his colleagues during the day, but despite being hit heavily by a prototype at the top of the hill towards the end of the race which sent him spinning down the track in the darkness towards the start/finish straight, Marino still managed to give the team it's first finish of the season and get the car to the chequered flag.
"The guys did an outstanding job" said Marino, "they worked so hard to find the problems we had and set about fixing them immediately, always getting us back out on track, I can't speak highly enough of them. I'm looking forward to the 4-hour race in Laguna, the car is improving all the time and it would be a great end to the season for the team if we could have a trouble-free run. I like the Laguna Seca track, and with Pirelli's help hopefully we can give the other GT entries something to think about".
The final round of the ALMS 2004 championship will take place in Laguna Seca on Saturday, 16th October. The race can be seen live in the US on NBC and in Europe on Motors TV.