Remembering a legend: Don Panoz

A motorsports icon and brilliant entrepreneur has passed away at the age of 83. Don Panoz was a lifelong gearhead. Known for creating the American Le Mans Series (ALMS), Petit Le Mans, and helping building a lineup of wild street and track cars bearing his and his son’s last name. 
But before the checkered flags, Don was a champion in the medical field, co-founding a pharmaceutical firm, Milan, at the age of just 26. Milan grew into Mylan, which sells more than a thousand products across 140 countries. He also holds the reigns to more than 300 pharmaceutical industry patents. The success didn’t stop there, and in the 1970s Panoz and a team of dedicated scientists created the first time-release medication via a transdermal patch, a.k.a. today’s nicotine patch.
But since this is Hooniverse and we’ve always admired the father-son duo of Panoz for their go-fast drive, here’s a brief history of Don’s rich, 20-year motoring passion.
Dan Panoz (pictured), launched Panoz Automotive Development in in 1990 and debuted his first car, the ’92 Roadster. As the Atlanta, Georgia based startup started to shine, the AIV Roadster arrived and the green light for full production began.
1997 was a big year for Panoz, when Don wanted to bring his son’s cars into the world of racing. So he established Panoz Motor Sport Group and dove headfirst into the racing scene, working with Ford to build the Esperante GTR-1 (also available to the public). Panoz initially churned out six Esperante GTR-1s, that employed a 6.0-liter V8 from Ford. The first one made its public debut during the 1997 12 Hours of Sebring and successfully completed 108 laps. Panoz’s GTR-1 is credited as being the first successful front-engined prototype race car in more than 30 years of racing.
David Price Racing’s GTR-1 took home an 11th place overall finish at that same year’s FIA GT Championship, trailing behind Porsche and McLaren. The season carried on and the Panoz factory team began racking up wins at Road Atlanta, Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Laguna Seca.
A reworked GTR-1 continued its run into ’98, grabbing a 7th place victory at the 24 Hours of LeMans. 2004 marked the retirement of the GTR-1 and attention turned towards the development of the new GTLM, powered by a 500 horsepower 5.0-liter V8 again from Ford. The GTLM won in its GT2 class at the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans, and in 2005 the No. 50 GTLM with Bill Auberlen and Robin Liddell at the wheel, killed Porsche’s seven-race winning streak.

Another masterpiece was the 2,400 lb. Esperante Q9 GTR-1 Hybrid, the world’s first modern hybrid race car. It used a 300-volt, 260-cell nickel metal hydride battery pack and Zytrek DC motor paired with Ford’s 6.0-liter V8 to scream out 650 horsepower.
Panoz entered the world of open-wheel racing with his DP01 Champ Car that earned its victorious stripes at the 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2004 Indy 500, and later with the infamous DeltaWing project, built by the one and only Dan Gurney. Efficiency was a key focus with the DeltaWing, which preciously and conservatively sipped less gas around the track than Audi’s R18 TDI diesel behemoth during the 2012 24 Hours of Le mans. Years went by and the DeltaWing found success at in Petit Le Mans races at Road Atlanta, Daytona, and Road America before retiring in 2016.

Two years ago, Panoz showed off his new, modern day Avezzano. A gorgeous, promising mix of sexy Italian styling inside and out, wrapped in a carbon fiber and lightweight aluminum package. Under its hood? An American heart, a 6.2-liter 430 horsepower V8 (there’s also an optional supercharged 580 horsepower variant) that teams with a six-seed manual. All that you read above is for the stunning street legal car you can buy right now. There’s also a track day-ready Esperante GTS (roller) available for grassroots racers moving up the ranks in SCCA events, for $65,750. You can also still buy a street-legal GTR-1 and have it custom designed.
Today, Panoz’s factory team enthusiastically races GT-class variants in events like the Pierrelli World Challenge. 2018 has proved to be a golden year for Panoz, with 8 wins and 12 podium finishes. We have no doubt in our mind that the legacy of Don Panoz, on the track and on the street, will carry on.
[Source and Images: Panoz]

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5 responses to “Remembering a legend: Don Panoz”

  1. outback_ute Avatar

    That is sad news. He did so much for motorsport, I went to the Race of a Thousand Years in Adelaide in 2000 that was part of the ALMS.

  2. Greg Kachadurian Avatar
    Greg Kachadurian

    An absolute legend. It’s amazing what he was able to do on the world stage from a small town in Georgia. My first Petit Le Mans experience was back in 2010 and I immediately had regrets for not going sooner. I was blown away and became a lifetime fan of ALMS/IMSA and endurance racing in general that weekend. At Petit Le Mans last year we were all crowding around him and some of his cars during the grid walk while he was being interviewed. You could tell he was genuinely proud of what he had started 20 years ago and was just happy we were all there. Thank you, Don.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      I started going to Road Atlanta in the early 1990s. At that point, very little had changed since the track opened in the 1970s. An investment group bought the track in 1993 and started making a few changes. Things really took off after Panoz got the track. I couldn’t believe when 40,000 people showed up for the first Petit Le Mans. It all started because his crazy son wanted to build a Lotus 7 copy/competitor with a Ford 5.0L V-8

  3. crank_case Avatar

    Panoz has a special place in the hearts of Irish car enthusiasts too, the clue is in the shamrock at the centre of the Panoz logo.
    A lot of US pharma companies have big operations in Ireland, which is how I believe he encountered now defunct Irish car company TMC who were going bust. Nothing unusual about that, niche sports car makers go to the wall as often as Bono clicks his fingers.
    They had a decent car though, an aero take on the lotus seven called the TMC Costin, which as the name indicates was designed by the legendary Frank Costin.
    Panoz bought the rights to the chassis, and developed it to become the basis of their first car, the roadster.

    1. P161911 Avatar

      That was actually Dan Panoz his son that bought the rights to Costin. Don was the one that decided to take Panoz cars racing and proceeded to buy a few racetracks and start ALMS.