WHAT Defying prototype convention by putting the engines in front
WHERE From Le Mans to North America
WHEN A decade ago...last time around
1 Ford’s ill-fated
hardly showed the
way forward, but...
2 ...nearly two
Panoz showed the
paradigm still was
valid for big-bore
sports car racing.
3 Dr. Don (at right)
reveled in beating
the world’s best
in 2002, victory was
served up by fast
in an LMP-01 Evo.
verything was better when the engines
were in front, some Indy 500 old-timers still
grumble, but physics trumped sentiment
around a half-century ago at Indy and
the roadsters were soon as dead as the
dinosaurs. They’ve had a few more roars of
defiance, though, as prototype sports cars.
The sporty-car set has always
encouraged a certain level of iconoclasm.
From Briggs Cunningham’s “Le Monstre”
to Nissan’s upcoming electric racer,
Le Mans has been a place where ideas
outside the mainstream get their chance.
On the other hand, the form-follows-function winnowing process is just as
powerful here, so when American
Le Mans Series founder Dr. Don Panoz
decided to go racing against the factory
Audi and BMW LMP1 prototypes with a
front-engined roadster in 1999, he was
definitely swimming against the tide.
The Panoz Roadster-S was a natural
progression from the Esperante GTR-1
Panoz’s team had been racing, but which
had been outlawed by the regulations at
the end of ’ 98. So, Panoz retained
Reynard – then at the height of its
influence as a constructor – to design a
prototype version. Like the Esperante, the
Roadster-S featured narrow fenders and a
wide, rounded nose which housed its Ford
engine, fed air via NACA ducts that added
to its rip-snorting appearance.
The powerplant was an echo of the
previous attempt at a front-engined sports
prototype – Ford’s Mustang GTP of the
1980s. But that project had been a weird
mix of old and new, featuring a powerful
but unreliable turbo four-banger, and
proved a big disappointment. The Panoz,
by contrast, fully embraced American iron
with a six-liter V8, and versions of the
thundering roadsters took wins in each of
the first four seasons of the ALMS. They
beat privateer Ferraris and Riley & Scotts,
as well as BMW and Audi factory entries.
At the end of 2003, however, Panoz
opted to retire his roadster prototypes in
favor of a production-based Esperante GT,
and sports prototype racing has not
featured front-engined machinery since.
But as long as the category continues
to attract contrarian thinkers, who’s to
say they won’t be back?
The Panoz Roadster
may be history,
but its patriach
continues to row
against the sports
car tide, having
radical Delta Wing
passed on. Dr. Don
Panoz was a
in the first Le Mans
Delta Wing, and
the 2013 iteration
of the car is an
CUTTING AGAINS T
THE GRAIN, STILL