Don Panoz will return to Le Mans this week alongside his new business partner, Grand-Am Road Racing founder Jim France, the duo leading leading the merger of the ALMS and the International Motor Sports Association with Grand-Am.
“[The Twelve Hours of] Sebring was the fifth race I’d been to in my life, so I wasn’t a fan of racing and all of that,” said Panoz. “That race to me was exciting but then, when I went to Le Mans later that year. I saw all the crowds, all the participants, all the pomp and circumstance.
“And I got to understand what 24 hours of racing really meant, what it really meant to have the different classes of cars and all the people competing. It really just overwhelmed me. It was something I’d never imagined. I mean we’ve all see the Steve McQueen movie Le Mans and I had seen it and was a little bit of a fan of it. But to actually be there in person and see it all up close was overwhelming. And so when I say I caught the virus, what happened was I got infected with endurance sports racing.”
Following his visit to Le Mans, Panoz went on to form a relationship with the Automobile Club de l’Ouest, the organisation which created and runs the Le Mans 24 Hours, which in turn led to Panoz founding the Petit Le Mans, a 10 hour endurance race held each October at Road Atlanta, which then led to the founding of the ALMS.
The new series, United SportsCar Racing, will debut at the 2014 Rolex 24 at Daytona, with Panoz and France at the World’s largest sports car event, the Le Mans 24 Hours, to present the new-and-improved unified face of North American sports car racing.
At a press conference on Thursday, Panoz and ACO President Pierre Fillon will present France with the French flag, which the Grand-Am founder will wave to signify the start of the 90th anniversary of the Le Mans 24 Hours.
“I think this is special for Jim, as I know he was at Le Mans many, many years ago and Jim is a real sports car guy, so I think it’s appropriate,” continued Panoz. “All the roads have finally ‘led to Rome’ and we’re getting the consolidation of relationships in sports car racing. And that’s all good for the fans, the teams, the sponsors.
“Moving forward, we need to keep our relationship with the ACO going which I’m sure Jim and our new group will do. It’s going to be a new era and I think it’s just going to be bigger and better.”