You really can’t mention Road Atlanta without thinking about Panoz. Sadly, a few weeks ago Dr Panoz lost his fight against cancer and, for that reason, this year’s Motul Petit Le Mans race was held in memory of Dr Don Panoz. We talked to John Leverett VP of Sales and Marketing and former director of engineering at Panoz about Dr Panoz and what made him so special.



John let’s take a trip down memory lane. Where did it all begin for Panoz? It’s a young brand and yet it’s had such a huge impact on sports car racing.

It started in the late 1990s with Danny Panoz, who wanted to start a company and build sports cars - now called Panoz Auto LLC. His father, Dr Don Panoz, decided that in order to promote his son’s race car company, it would be a good idea to start racing cars first. So that’s when the first Panoz car was born - the GTR-1. Don Panoz didn’t really have a background in the car industry, but he visited a few races and caught the bug pretty quickly. When he was told that the ultimate race to enter was the 24 hours of Le Mans, it immediately became his goal. But just as quickly he was told that a small sports car manufacturer could not enter the 24 hours of Le Mans just like that. But when you told Don Panoz that something can’t be done…


John let’s take a trip down memory lane. Where did it all begin for Panoz? It’s a young brand and yet it’s had such a huge impact on sports car racing.

Panoz has a rich history at the Le Mans, so he must have cracked it.

Yes, the very next year he entered the Panoz GTR-1 into the 24 hours of Le Mans, as well as in the subsequent years. The Panoz GTR-1, later called the Esperante GTR-1, was an immediate hit amongst the fans because it was so different. We were the only car manufacturer to run a big V8 in the front, when the rest of the field was all mid- or rear-engined. But the car was known for its thundering V8 engine. Sitting in the grandstand at the front straight at the Le Mans, people could hear the car roaring away on the back straight at Mulsanne… And a few years later the Esperante GT2 won the GT2 class in 2006.


Your brand may be known for racing, but there are also road cars, which are definitely not your average classic American sports cars?

No, they’re real sports cars (smiles). When we started out in the late 1990s with the Esperante Roadster, Americans would usually associate sports cars with European names. We made lightweight sports cars with an American identity. So, we combined a big American engine with a lightweight chassis and a manual gearbox.


How did Panoz manage to survive? So many other small boutique car manufacturers have gone belly-up after a few years.

Well, Danny Panoz was clever. He wanted to design and develop a car, but he couldn’t be bothered with designing an air conditioning unit or seats or even a suspension set-up. That’s why he borrowed those from other cars like the Mustang GT. That means we only needed to invest our R&D budget in the things that really mattered to the car and its identity. Besides, we’ve also been developing cars from other manufacturers and building prototypes. We have a big carbon composites division where we build a lot of race car bodywork parts. We’ve even built a bunch of Indy cars and we’ve actually won the Indy 500 four times - most people don’t even realise! Back in these days, the road cars are something we’re very passionate about but it’s definitely no longer our core business.


What is the story behind the DeltaWing?

Well at Panoz we always try to push the boundaries of what’s possible in a race car, and the DeltaWing was a prime example. The DeltaWing was a radical concept which nobody wanted to accept and when they did it was so restricted that it could never demonstrate what it was truly capable of. It was a car that was lighter, faster, burnt less fuel and had less tyre wear. Aren’t those all things that the industry would benefit from? They could have showcased an alternative to prove that we can build more efficient cars with a combustion engine and that not all of us have to switch to hydrogen or electric? Without wanting to point any fingers, I’m convinced that if one or two more teams had supported the concept, this car would not just be opening the race in front of the grid but sitting right at the front of it…


What is the story behind the DeltaWing?

Pictures: ©Frederik Herregods

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