A Man Who Saved American Endurance Racing

I will start what can only be considered as a eulogy for the late Donald Don Panoz, who died on September, 11 at his home in Duluth, Georgia with an official statement from Panoz LLC:

"Possibly most widely celebrated for saving sports car racing in North America or inventing the dermatological patch, ironically so for those that knew him and his smoking habits, the technology behind the nicotine patch, Panoz was a man known for questioning the norm. If someone told him ‘no,’ he told them ‘yes.’ This was the personality and the motivation behind the man, that can safely be said, has left a legacy of success and technological developments, not just in one industry, but across many."

From A Pharmaceutical Mogul To A Motorsport Icon

His quest for a meaningful and fulfilled life led him to become a pharmaceutical mogul. Something he definitely achieved after inventing the dermatological patch. Yet, he did not end up being honored here due to his business proves or obvious pharmaceutical innovation, but because of his influence in the world of cars. And especially in the world of motorsport.

His involvement in the world of cars became apparent after his son Danny actually showed interest in racing in the late Eighties. That is when Don Panoz started to investigate business opportunities and did all he can to fulfill his motoring passions through the invention of the Panoz automotive company. This led him to form numerous partnerships with companies from Britain. This served as the backbone for the creation of the first proper racecar called the Esperante GTR-1. As racer.com reports, Panoz took a novel approach to car design fitting the Esperante GTR-1 with a front engine layout. This was a novelty for the segment where all racers sported a rear engine layout. This was just the start of his vision. The continuation of the development led him to Zytek Engineering; a company specialized in electric motors. I can only say that he looked so far in the future that he fitted an electric set up to the Esperante GTR-1. All modern LMP1 racers actually sport some kind of similar technology.

He Will Be Remembered By His Esperante GTR-1 Car

1997 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 High Resolution Exterior
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While his Panoz racing team and the Esperante GTR-1 car won numerous races since thier inception (Panoz actually won the 2018 Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS Sprint/Sprint-X Manufacturer’s Championship earlier this year with the Panoz Avezzano), Don Panoz’s most astounding achievement was the creation and reinvention of endurance racing in the U.S.

In the Nineties, endurance racing in the U.S. was on its last legs. Donald Panoz saw an opportunity and invested smartly by developing the endurance racer Esperante GTR-1, founding the American Le Mans series and Women’s GT Open Series. All of this while juggling businesses that spanned from organizing PGA golf tours, managing Élan Pharmaceutical Research Corporation, and starting wineries and resort businesses. He was a man of many talents for sure.

Motoring Success

Panoz Motorsport was formed in 1997. They competed with the Esperante GTR-1 in the United States Road Racing Championship’s GT class, USRRC, and IMSA’s GT category where Panoz secured the constructors’ and teams’ title in 1998. After starting the ALMS series in 1999, Panoz Motorsports immediately proved its seriousness by winning the title before the BMW Dyson Motorsports’ Riley & Scott MkIII and Ferrari. It was an important win leading to further development of the racer which evolved into a full-fledged GT car. With the updated car, Panoz won Sebring 12 Hours and even reached first place at the infamous Le Mans 24 Hours race - the most challenging endurance race in the world.

Involvement in the world of motorsport led Panoz Motorsport to become a supplier for teams finally constructing Indy car, entering Champ Car World Series with Lola, and designing the DeltaWing based on top of Ben Bowlby’s plans. The car did not reach Indy car competition, but it did compete at the Le Mans 24 Hours race and at the Petit Le Mans competition where it finished fifth. Further DeltaWing development led Panoz to partner with Mazda for the ALMS series before retiring after 2016 due to reliability problems. Lately, Avezano represents the colors of Panoz. It is a GT car dominating the Pirelli World Challenge’s GTS class.

Conclusion

Don Panoz Legacy and Influence In the World of Cars And Motorsport
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Donald Panoz obviously had a nose for business and for innovation as he successfully reinvented endurance racing in the U.S. by developing competitive cars, buying tracks, and partnering with some of the most successful motorsport associations in the world. With the latest win at the Pirelli World Challenge’s, Panoz is definitely set for a bright future, now celebrating achievements of its founder - Donald Don Panoz. You can expect a celebration of his achievements at the 21st running of Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta that will take place in October.

Further reading

1997 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 High Resolution Exterior
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Read our full review on the 1997 Panoz Esperante GTR-1.

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