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  Panoz Esperante GTLM

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Country of origin:United States
Produced from:2004 - 2007
Numbers built:9
Author:Wouter Melissen
Last updated:August 07, 2006
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Click here to download printer friendly versionAfter building and racing a variety of unconventional prototype racers, Panoz turned to GT racing for the first time in 2004. The first step was the introduction of a new version of the Esperante road car a year earlier. Dubbed the GTLM, it featured a 420 bhp supercharged version of Ford's modular engine. To prepare for the racing ahead much of the car's exterior was refined to produce more downforce. All in all, the GTLM was more powerful and lighter than previous versions; ideally suited for racing.

Within a year after the road car was first announced, the racing GTLM took to the track. To even out the various engine configurations and displacements, the sport's governing bodies require all cars to run an intake restrictor with a variable size depending on displacement and method of induction. A Supercharger does not work very well with a restrictor so Panoz opted to fit a slightly larger, Naturally Aspirated version of Ford's versatile V8. Prepared by Elan Motorsport this 5 litre engine proved to be good for 500 bhp despite the restrictors.

Shortly after the 2004 Sebring 12 Hours, the Panoz development team tested the new racer to see how competitive it was with the other LM GT cars it would face in the ALMS championship. After a number of successful test sessions, the Panoz GT racer debuted in the second round of the season at Mid Ohio. In the race it ran as high as third in the Porsche dominated class before being forced to retire. The remainder of the season was used to further develop the car and prepare for a full assault in 2005 with a two car team.

In the second round of the season the hard work paid off and the Esperante GTLM scored a heavily fought over first in class in the Grand Prix of Atlanta. Sadly the winning performance could not be continued in the following races where the cars were often dogged with problems. The team spent a few weeks in Europe for the 24 Hours of Le Mans race where they matched the Porsches' pace, but again suffered with reliability issues. For 2006 the Esperante will be in action more frequently in Europe in the hands of Team LNT who previously ran TVRs.

The production of customer cars must have inspired the works team, which excelled in the opening round of the 2006 season by taking a heavily disputed class victory in the legendary 12 Hours of Sebring race. In the same race, one of the three LNT cars made its debut and although it was not quite as quick as the fully dialed in works racers, finishing the race was a big encouragement for the team. The Esperantes now parted ways with the works cars competing in the ALMS and the LNT examples in the British GT and Le Mans Series, all with considerable success.

At the 2006 24 Hours of Le Mans, the two teams reunited with a single Works/Multimatic and a single LNT taking on the ultimate challenge. It did not start out well at all with both cars suffering engine related problems in the test session. The average performance in qualifying did not give the teams much to look forward to in the race and when the Multimatic car was forced to retire early in the race, the drama seemed to be complete. Team LNT then set about proving the skeptics wrong with a very strong towards the top of the class. When it mattered most, at the 24 hour mark, the bright orange Panoz was at the head of the field, finally scoring a (class) win for Panoz in the company's tenth appearance in the French classic.

Pictured in the first three rows are the works Esperantes at their first attempt at Le Mans glory in 2005. The next row is reserved for the LNT Esperante in action at various 2006 Le Mans Series races. In the final row we see the striking coupe on its way to beat the Ferraris, Spykers and Porsches in the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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  Article Image gallery (107) Specifications