Ok, I admit that the appearance of a car or truck is a major factor as to whether or not I want to drive it, and this particular car still has me on the fence. That said, the Panoz Esperante GTR-1 (also known as Panoz GTR-1 and later the Panoz GTP) was a LeMans racer developed by Panoz Auto Development and Reynard Motorsport in 1997. Although it is named after the Panoz Esperante roadster (shown below), the GTR-1 actually bore no mechanical relation to the production Esperante except for minor styling points. Only two road-legal GTR-1s were built to meet homologation requirements set forth by the ruling bodies which enables these Supercars to compete on the track.
The GTR-1 competed in the FIA GT Championship and the 24 hours of Le Mans in Europe. This car also made it’s mark at the IMSA GT, United States Road Racing Championship, as well as the American Le Mans Series in the Good ole U.S.A.
In 1997 a total of six Esperante GTR-1s were built by Panoz, FORD and Reynard, with them being split equally between the three teams. Panoz would retain two cars for their own factory effort in the United States. The French squad DAMS would use two in Europe along with the British team David Price Racing, who received the final two cars. The cars debuted at the 1997 12 Hours of Sebring, but failed to finish after 108 laps. Meanwhile, David Price’s first Esperante GTR-1 would debut at Hockenheimring for the FIA GT Championship and it managed to finish 11th overall behind the McLaren and Porsche competitors. DAMS’ car debuted a round later at the Silverstone Circuit but it failed to finish.
Later in the season Panoz’s factory team took the first success at Road Atlanta by winning a GT-class only event. This was soon followed by the 6 Hours of Watkings Glen win in the GTS-1 class and capturing 3rd overall. While riding the wave of success, the factory team would follow this with wins in the GT class at Sonoma Raceway as well as Laguna Seca. Panoz came in second behind Porsche in the constructors championship that season.
In Europe however, the Esperante GTR-1 suffered from a lack of pace against much better funded factory efforts which were mostly lacking in North America. DAMS was unable to score any points in the championship, while David Price finished third at Sebring in one of the final rounds of the FIA GT season, earning the team 6th place in the team’s championship.
For the 24 Hours of Le Mans there were three GTR-1s entered by David Price and DAMS. Unfortunately, none of the cars were able to finish due to engine difficulties. DAMS car burned which destroyed chassis #005.
In 1998 the GTR-1 did very well in the United States but not as well in European events. The main reason Panoz suffered in Europe was two fold; the first reason was the car was receiving developmental upgrades in order to perform better at Le Mans and the other reason was due to the fact that Porsche owned the race track that year, as well as several other years.
While the Esperante GTR-1 had major success in 1998, Panoz was aware that grand touring racing cars were becoming highly exotic machines with no road car similarities. Therefore, Panoz realized he would no longer be able to compete against such cars with the Esperante GTR-1, and it was decided that Panoz would move to the Le Mans prototype class. This was also helped by the fact that the FIA GT Championship decided to abandon the GT1 class, leaving the Esperante GTR-1 unable to compete in Europe.
While development of the new LMP-1 Roadster-S was taking place to address the new direction for Panoz’s racing efforts, the teams pushed on with the GTR-1 in the new American Le Mans Series. Two GTR-1s would run at Sebring and both failed to finish. At the next race at Road Atlanta the new LMP-1 debuted and a GTR-1 was also run to give the team something to fall back on. Unfortunately, it failed to finish as well. For the next round, a second LMP-1 was completed, and so the GTR-1 was retired completely.
In 2003, Panoz decided to resurrect chassis #003 (formerly run by David Price Racing) to run as a closed-cockpit Le Mans prototype before the company switched to the new Esperante GT-LM GT2 car. The car was entered in the 1000KM of Le Mans and run by the factory JML Team. The car unfortunately did not finish due to electronics problems.
Following this event, the car was purchased by the French squad Larbre Competition and further modified. It was renamed as the Panoz GTP in order to reflect its change in class. The modified car would debut at the 2004 12 Hours of Sebring and finished 9th overall. The car would next appear at the 24 Hours of Le Mans where it dropped out of the race early. A final appearance was made in the Le Mans Series event at Spa-Francorchamps taking 14th place. The car would finally be retired for good after the 2004 season.
Ok, so I may have thrown a great deal of history about this supercar at you but keep this in mind……. Even though this racer may not be the prettiest girl at the dance she did very well for a car that had minimal funding not to mention a very short development history. I will give this unique looking racer it’s due and it is too bad as to how events took her off the track.
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