Don Panoz, a racing and sports car manufacturer who launched the American Le Mans Series, owned several race tracks and built Chateau Elan, home of the Atlanta Concours d’Elegance, died Tuesday. He was 83 and had been ill with cancer.
“Don Panoz will be remembered as a one of the most important figures in the history of sports car racing,” NASCAR and IMSA chairman Jim France was quoted on the IMSA website.
“Don was a true gentleman who deeply cared about our sport. That was obvious to all who are involved with sports car racing. He became a great friend and partner, and we shared the pride of combining Grand-Am and the American Le Mans Series and re-establishing the IMSA brand, bringing sports car racing together again.
“Don was a true innovator whose work touched many lives.”
“It is difficult to find the right words to express my sadness with the news of Don’s passing,” said Scott Atherton, IMSA president.“He was a very special guy – the most visionary and creative person I have ever worked with. He was a serial entrepreneur of the highest order. Don was the consummate ‘idea guy’ – not all of them good mind you – but he came up with several that were truly brilliant that transformed entire industries.
“Many of us who make our living in motorsport owe him a debt of gratitude. He deserves full credit for putting professional sports car racing back on the map when it was at its lowest point. His acquisition of IMSA, Sebring International Raceway, Road Atlanta, Mosport and the creation of the American Le Mans Series are enduring monuments of his legacy.”
Panoz’ tracks also hosted many vintage racing events.
The IMSA announcement noted that the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 was the first successful front-engine prototype race car in more than 30 years.
“Following that, Panoz was a pioneer in the introduction of hybrid technology in sports car racing, bringing the car known as “sparky” into competition at the 1998 Petit Le Mans,” the sanctioning body added.
The Panoz Esperante GT LM won both at Le Mans and Sebring in 2006, earning Panoz the“Spirit of Le Mans” award from the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, organizers of the annual 24-hour race in France.
“Don loved the challenge that top-level motorsport represented,” Atherton said. “He loved to compete and was always looking to achieve success with game-changing innovation and by doing things differently. Putting the engine in the front of a modern LMP1 racecar, introducing hybrid engine technology at Le Mans long before it was embraced by mainstream manufacturers and, of course, the DeltaWing are but a few of many, many examples.”
Panoz’ entry in motorsports followed his son, Danny’s, involvement in producing the Panoz Roadster, a sports car based on the designs of Irish engineer Frank Costin. Danny Panoz bought the rights to the project while in Ireland, where his father’s Elan pharmaceutical company was based. Elan developed the adhesive “patch” for delivering drugs.