The Spirit of America ready to fly the Flag at Le Mans. Panoz Motor Sports is ready to launch its "Spirit of America" assault on the world's most famous and most gruelling motor race - the Le Mans 24 Hours. This year will be the sixth assault...
The Spirit of America ready to fly the Flag at Le Mans.
Panoz Motor Sports is ready to launch its "Spirit of America" assault on the world's most famous and most gruelling motor race - the Le Mans 24 Hours.
This year will be the sixth assault on the event for the Braselton, Georgia, based outfit and the team enters the race in winning form - taking victory at the last round of the American Le Mans Series at Sears Point in California in May.
More than 12 tons of equipment has been air freighted from the US to France in preparation for the round-the-clock classic which commences at 4pm on Saturday, June 15.
The team's two unique front-engined Panoz LMP-01 Evo prototype machines have undergone intense development in 2002 with new front and rear aerodynamics, engine improvements and a new smaller and lighter gearbox introduced.
Panoz's working partnership with tire manufacturer Michelin has also produced significant speed gains for this year's event.
The Panoz driver line-up will include internationals David Brabham (Australia) and Jan Magnussen (Denmark) teaming up with American Bryan Herta in one car, and an all-American line-up of Bill Auberlen, David Donohue and Gunnar Jeannette in the second machine.
The team will present its cars for the traditional downtown Le Mans technical inspection on next Tuesday, before hitting the track for the first practice/qualifying session on Wednesday night. This year's Le Mans 24 Hours will again be televised throughout the US on Speed Channel.
"Le Mans means everything to me. It motivates me, it totally consumes me at this time of year. It is what I think about all the time.
"This year I really believe we have a very good chance for an excellent result. The improvements that we have made to the car are good and we have a very strong driver line-up.
"The team is working exceptionally well and the win at Sears Point has really motivated everybody. We are entering this event in the the right frame of mind and you have to, because it is such a tough race.
"It really is the biggest race in the world and the level of competition is just so intense. Quality cars, quality drivers and you have to go flat out for 24 hours - there is no holding back. This race is tough for everybody - the drivers, the engineers, the mechanics - the entire team. However, there is no more rewarding race place to achieve success."
"This is certainly the biggest race of the year and the one that everybody would love to have in their record books,
"The competition is incredibly fierce, but the secret is to ensure you spend as little time in the pits as possible.
"Our guys have been working incredibly hard in the build-up to this year¹s race and I am really looking forward to it. Winning at Sears Point was a great plus for the team but we are under no illusions that Le Mans is going to be a whole lot tougher.
"This is the race that really makes or breaks your year and I believe we are well prepared to really give it our best shot. I haven't had the best of luck at Le Mans in recent years, so hopefully things will start to turn our way."
"The entire experience is going to be fantastic. Before the pre-qualifying weekend, I had only ever seen it on television and to be out there on track and to go through some of those corners was brilliant.
"But once you get past the initial thrill, it becomes just another race track and one which will play a key part in our year.
"I was really glad to get the opportunity to go to pre-qual and learn the circuit so I am not going in cold for the race. I am really looking forward to the event because it will be something totally different from what I have done before.
"The night racing at Sebring was fantastic and I can't wait to see what it is like at night at Le Mans. It may be awfully dark and harder to see, but I am interested to see what the challenge will be like."
"Le Mans is one week of pure history - it is the biggest sportscar race in the world. The parade, the technical inspection downtown, the practice, the race -- everything has such a fantastic atmosphere.
"It is also brilliant to drive at more than 200 mph down what are basically local roads in the French countryside. Only a couple of days before, these roads are open to the public, but as a race circuit it offers some of the best corners in the world - the best you would find at any race track.
"Le Mans is always tough and with the level of competition, you always need luck on your side. The crew has the toughest job with an enormous workload and keeping awake for the 24 hours is very taxing.
"From a driver's perspective, it is not as tough physically as Sebring because there are plenty of long straights, but mentally it is a unique challenge."
"Le Mans is really an amazing place and I was really lucky to win there first time out in the GTS class in the Viper. I didn't really appreciate it at the time, or quite know how to celebrate. I now know this place is not always that easy.
"In GTS, the drivers can only lose the race - team preparation is what will actually win the event. But in the prototype class, the drivers play a much more active role in your success.
"For this race there is so much more pressure on every ingredient that goes into a race team. Preparation is extremely important because a 25 cent part can fail and bring down an entire multi-million dollar effort.
"The circuit has everything a driver could ever want and you probably get the chance to get more seat time in the car here than the rest of the year put together.
"This is the single biggest road race in the world and the one people will remember for the rest of year. If you can win, you will remember it for the rest of your life."
"This race really does mean everything to me because I grew up around sportscars. As a kid, I never had dreams of racing Formula 1 or the Indy 500 - Le Mans was what it was all about and to now get the opportunity to race a front-running prototype here is just an astounding experience.
"The pre-qualifying weekend was just amazing. I have done plenty of laps in the car before, but to get out there at well over 200mph was just brilliant.
"The team is extremely motivated to do well and as I am the least experienced guy on the driving squad, there is obviously a fair amount of pressure involved, but I am looking forward to it.
"I will get the opportunity to learn a great deal from David and Bill and having driven GT cars at Le Mans for the past couple of years, I know what it is like for the slower cars to have a prototype come charging in on them.
"24 hours is an extremely tough test but standing on the podium in GT last year was a fantastic experience and I would love to do it again in a prototype."