Panoz, the U.S.-based manufacturer of exclusive luxury sports and some of endurance sports car racing’s most memorable front-engine race cars, will display one of its Esperante LMP-1 Roadster S prototype race cars at the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours, the 84th running of endurance racing’s premiere event.
This iconic, American V8-powered fan favorite will be part of a very special “Americans at Le Mans” 13,000-sq.-ft. exhibit located in the heart of the 24 Hours of Le Mans village. In addition to the Panoz, the exhibit includes 15 American race cars spanning nine decades to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the Automobile Club de l’Ouest (ACO) and the Americans who raced at Le Mans.
The Panoz Esperante LMP-1 Roadster S on display is the car driven by David Brabham, Jan Magnussen and Mario Andretti at the 2000 24 Hours of Le Mans. Wearing the No. 11 and the scarlet red Panoz/Adelaide livery, it qualified fourth and finished 15th overall. The sister No. 12 car driven by Hiroki Katou, Johnny O’Connell, and Pierre-Henri Raphanel was eighth in qualifying and finished fifth overall. Counting the Team Dragon entries from Japan and the Danish-sponsored Den Blas Avis Panoz, a total of five Panoz Esperante LMP-1 Roadster S race cars started the grueling event, and all five finished the race. This was no small feat for an unconventional race car only in its second year of competition.
“The Ford V8 up front, just like our street cars”
The Panoz Esperante LMP-1 Roadster S was unique in the prototype class because of its powerful Ford V8 positioned in front of the driver. Never one to follow the status quo, Don Panoz first revisited this configuration in 1997 when he founded the Panoz Motor Sport Group and worked with renowned race car designer Adrian Reynard to create the closed-cockpit Panoz Esperante GTR-1.
“Initially, I went to the Panoz factory to consult on their Roadster,” said Reynard. “But when I saw the prototype for the Esperante, which is a very beautiful sports coupe, I commented that it would make a great GT race car. I asked Don, ‘Wouldn’t you like to win Le Mans?’ He said yes, and so the project was born… . Pretty much the only constraints he gave us were that we had to put the engine in the front and that it would be a Ford V8.”*
Panoz also was a hybrid racing pioneer, creating the 1998 Panoz Q9 GTR-1 Hybrid, affectionately known as “Sparky.” Like today’s hybrid race cars, the Q9 featured a combustion engine paired with an electric motor to help drive the car and had a regenerative braking system to recharge its batteries.
Derived from the GTR-1, the Panoz Esperante LMP-1 Roadster S featured the larger 6.0-liter pushrod Ford V8 rather than the 4.6-liter V8 used in the Panoz AIV Roadster. In the 2,057-lb. LMP-1 Roadster S it produced 620 horsepower at 6,600 rpm and more than 500 ft./lb. of torque. In 1999 it became the first front mid-engine prototype race car to win a U.S. race since the 1983 Mustang GTP victory in the Camel GT series. It went on to score four wins over the dominant factory Audi R8 race cars, and fans loved its outstanding performance, unique design, and sonorous and angry V8 roar.
While the Le Mans overall win eluded the Panoz GTR-1 and LMP-1 Roadster S teams, the brand was victorious at both Sebring and Le Mans in 2006.
The Panoz Motor Sport Group fielded successful teams racing the Panoz Esperante GTLM, a racing version of the Panoz Esperante GTLM two-seat sports car. Built specifically to compete in the GT2 class at the 24 Hours of Le Mans and in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), it featured a naturally aspirated stock Ford V8 block bored to 5.0 liters with custom crank, rods, pistons, and a heavily massaged intake manifold and produced about 500 horsepower.
On April 17, 2005 Panoz scored its first win with the new car when the No. 50 Panoz Esperante GTLM piloted by Bill Auberlen and Robin Liddell beat the Porsche 911 of Timo Bernhard and Romain Dumas in the No. 23 Alex Job Racing Porsche 911 GT3. Success continued in 2006 when the No. 50 Multimatic Motorsports Panoz Esperante GTLM driven by David Brabham, Scott Maxwell, and Sébastien Bourdais won GT2 class at the 54th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.
But the pinnacle of Panoz racing success with this car occurred at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans. Ten years ago this month Team LNT shocked the experts by winning the GT2 class and finishing 15th overall in the No. 81 Panoz Esperante GTLM race car. Drivers Lawrence Tomlinson, Tom Kimber-Smith and Richard Dean completed 321 laps and finished one lap ahead of the No. 83 Seikel Motorsport Farnbacher Racing Porsche 911 GT3-RS.
“It was an amazing race,” said Lawrence Tomlinson, founding chairman of the LNT Group and chairman of Ginetta Cars Ltd. “We set our target lap times and just hit those. Our intention was to stop less than everyone else, and driving economically gave us one extra lap per stint. By the time others realized what we were doing fit was too late. The car ran faultlessly and the V8 never missed a beat.”