published: Sunday, March 10, 2013
Panoz named 2013 Sebring Grand Marshall
By BARRY FOSTER
SEBRING - Not since 12 Hour of Sebring creator Alec Ulmann has one promoter been so inextricably linked to America's oldest and most prestigious sports car race. From the creation of the sanctioning body that administrated the race, to improvements at the historic raceway, to fielding a number of race cars - finding an individual more involved in Sebring than Don Panoz would be a tough task.
To that end, American Le Mans Series founder and 12 Hour promoter Don Panoz has been tapped as this year's Grand Marshal for the Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. It will be a bittersweet event, as the 61st running of the grand prix of endurance will also be the last under the ALMS banner.
The ALMS was established under an agreement with the Automobile Club de l'Ouest (ACO), organizers of the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Officials of the ACO later said that as the creator of the first series to bear the 'Le Mans' name - and at the same time using its racing rules - Panoz had "developed endurance racing and taken it to a level probably never before attained on the American continent."
Later, standing in a packed pressroom in the old pit structure, Panoz told a conglomeration of journalists his plans for improvements to the track.
Over better than a decade of ownership, Panoz saw to the construction of a state-of-the-art pit structure, a hotel, a new administration building and the enlargement of racing facilities in the paddock area.
The Chateau Elan Hotel and Spa opened at the raceway's famous hairpin turn in 2000 just in time for Race Week. It later underwent a $7 million expansion that included 43 new rooms and suites plus a 4,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom.
In 2008 a new two-story, 10,000-square-foot administration building greeted fans at the raceway. It houses a new gift shop, registration center, ticket office, business center, conference room, staff offices and archives.
On the raceway itself, the Gallery of Legends was built in the paddock. That building annually houses a display of notable vintage race cars during each year's 12 Hour race. The 7,500-square-foot structure is available year-round for car clubs, vintage racers and special events. Ultimately it was designed to house the Sebring Hall of Fame.
Moreover, Panoz was responsible for a number of different cars that raced the 12 Hours. It started with the famous Panoz GTR, with other incarnations such as the Roadster-S and a series of LMP cars. They were notable amongst Le Mans prototypes for the the placement of the engine in front of the driver, instead of the normal positioning behind. The style of the car earned the GTR the nickname "Le Batmobile."
He also fielded the Panoz Abruzzi 'Spirit of Le Mans' race car. That was prepared by Tom Milner's Prototype Technology Group, and competed at Sebring in 2011.
A charter member of the Sebring International Raceway's Hall of Fame, Panoz will continue to exert influence over Sebring International Raceway and sports car racing as a whole. He will continue to serve on the board of a new sports car racing sanctioning body resulting from the merger of the ALMS and the GRAND-AM racing series.
A name for that new group is slated to be announced next week.
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