DeltaWing and Panoz GTR-1 on track at Motul Petit Le Mans in tribute to late Don Panoz
Panoz returned to Motul Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta in Braselton, Georgia (12-14 October), not to race, but to pay tribute to the late Don Panoz. A visionary entrepreneur, Panoz was most famous for reviving North American sports car racing by founding the American Le Mans Series. The series ran its first season in 1999 which included the Petit Le Mans race, but the inaugural Petit Le Mans was in 1998 at the Panoz-owned Road Atlanta. In 1998, after catching the endurance racing bug at Le Mans, Panoz created a partnership with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organisers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans, and began a 10-hour race in the spirit of Le Mans. For these reasons, there could not have been be a better track or race to celebrate the significance of Panoz’s racing endeavours and achievements.
Two drivers with special ties to Panoz, Johnny O’Connell and Jan Magnussen, were given the honour of the lap in the iconic cars, the GTR-1 for its front engine and the DeltaWing for its original and innovative shape. The American was a part of the adventure from the beginning, competing in the 1998 24 Hours of Le Mans at the wheel of one of the two GTR-1s fielded (retirement) and the Dane joined the Panoz family at the end of 1999 right before the debut of the Roadster, an open GTR-1 to comply with the new regulations. Both drivers later successfully moved on to Corvette Racing, which for Don Panoz showed he had made good choices in his drivers.
Jan Magnussen was thrilled to reunite with the GTR-1 in front of his son Kevin, a Haas F1 driver. The first time Jan ever drove the GTR-1 was at Road Atlanta during a practice session, then he took the wheel at Sebring the following year (retirement): “It was fantastic even though it was a slow speed lap. What surprised me most was the noise! The engine is still just as deafening, nothing has changed!”
After a lap in front of the field of competitors, the two cars returned to the canopy in the paddock where are on display several Panozs, both road and racing, including the Esperante class winner at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans.