Previous Columns

The Way It Is/ Testing of the new Panoz DP01 Champ car is underway at Sebring

by Gordon Kirby
After a hectic final week of preparation the prototype Panoz DP01 Champ car ran its first test laps at Sebring on Monday. Driven by Roberto Moreno, the car ran twenty laps at Sebring in its debut outing and is scheduled to run every day for the rest of the week.

Like the first run for any new racing car there were a series of last-minute glitches to overcome. A leaking fuel cell prevented the scheduled shakedown at Road Atlanta last Tuesday and Wednesday and another undisclosed problem resulted in an oil leak, stopping the car from running later in the week. Panoz's development team, led by Peter Parrott, had to build a small metal fuel tank to hold a few gallons of methanol and finally ran the car on Saturday in the parking lot at Road Atlanta with Anthony Lazzaro driving because Moreno had to fly home for a few days.

As I've written before Champ Car couldn't have selected a better man for the job of testing the new Panoz DP01. Moreno, 47, has a wealth of experience in Champ cars, Indy cars and Formula 1. He won Champ Car races in Vancouver in 2001 and Cleveland in '02 while driving for Patrick Racing, finished second to teammate and old friend Nelson Piquet in the 1990 Japanese GP with the Benetton team, and was a Ferrari F1 test driver in the late '80s when he developed Ferrari's first automatic transmission with John Barnard.

The leaking fuel cell has been put aside for a few days and crew chief Parrott has decided to push on with the jerry-rigged aluminum tank so the development team can work on sorting out the basic systems. "Right now we can only three laps at a time and then come in and put fuel in it," Parrott said on Monday afternoon. "It's not the perfect situation. But the car ran okay. It ran well. We've been sorting-out the paddle shifting today and probably the next couple of days. It's not just the shifting system, there's some software work to be done to get the motor synchronized with it. We need to get that working perfectly, then we can get down to business on the rest of it. But we certainly made some gains today and I'm sure we'll make some more gains tonight and again tomorrow. "

Parrott said he hopes to install a properly-repaired fuel cell later in the week. "It's an annoyance, but these things just take time," Parrott remarked. "That's the way these things are. But we're running and it's running well."

Moreno was delighted with the paddle shifter. "It shifts really well," Roberto said. "Right now, we're just trying to get the glitches out. The shifter is already there in my opinion. It just needs some sorting-out on the details. But the car feels really good. There's definitely a lot of aero on the car and the paddle shifter is so much better than the gearshift. I'm very impressed with the aero package and the way the car feels. I'm looking forward to the work we have ahead of us."

For a detailed technical look at the DP01 with chief designer Simon Marshall and aerodynamicist Nick Alcock, read my Inside Track column posted Monday on the Champ Car website. In this column, we're going to take a look at the business side of the Panoz Motor Sports Group. Founded by Don Panoz in 1999, the man's motor sports empire embraces car design and construction facilities, an engine shop, race tracks, a sanctioning body and a handful of racing series.

Elan Motorsport Technologies is the umbrella company that encompasses all of the manufacturing capabilities of the Panoz Motor Sports Group. EMT includes legendary Formula Ford and small formula car builder Van Diemen which is based separately in the UK near the Snetterton racetrack. Van Diemen's large annual volume of cars helps make Panoz the world's largest manufacturer of production racing cars.

Elan Composite is Panoz's carbon fiber composite division which does all of the company's composite manufacturing and also supplies domestic aircraft manufacturers and at least one defence contractor with carbon composite components. Another component of EMT is Elan Power which builds engines for Panoz's racing GT cars and other teams as well as development work for American auto manufacturers. EMT's third division is Elan Precision Engineering which is Panoz's fabrication shop.

Also included in the Panoz Group are three racetracks--nearby Road Atlanta, Sebring and Mosport in Canada. There are Panoz Racing Schools at all three of these tracks plus the Audi Driving Experience and Maserati Masters driving program. And of course, Panoz owns IMSA, the sanctioning body which sanctions the American Le Mans Series, Formula BMW, the Porsche GT Cup, and the A1GP series when it races in the United States. Included in this segment of Panoz's businesses is ownership of the American Le Mans Series, the Porsche GT Cup series, and the recently-launched IMSA Lights series.

All this means the Panoz Group probably is the most diversified racing company in United States. In fact, Scott Atherton, president and CEO of the Panoz Motor Sports Group, goes one step further. "I believe EMT is one of the most diversified, comprehensive motorsports companies in the world," Atherton commented. "It encompasses the full capabilities of design, development, build and service, from entry-level enthusiast sports/race cars all the way up to the highest form of motorsports in America today, encompassing the IRL Indy car and this latest, greatest, truly cutting-edge Panoz DP01 Champ car.

"Whether it's Penske, or International Speedway Corporation, or Speedway Motorsports, you name the company whether it's a big Wall Street, publicly-held entity, or a private group somewhere else in the world, I don't know of anyone with half the diversity."

David Bowes is the CEO of Elan Motorsports Technologies. Bowes worked in the auto industry in his native UK for twenty years before making a career change by going to work for Lola Cars. After four years with Lola, Bowes moved to the United States in 2002 to run EMT. Bowes knew his primary competitors for Champ Car's 2007 car contract were Lola and Dallara and in the end Panoz's biggest strength in winning the contract was the company's location in the USA. Unlike dealing with Lola or Dallara, Panoz is only a day trip from many places within the United States and should make it quicker and easier for parts supply, service and repairs.

"There are three companies around the world who could have done this job," Bowes remarked. "We had to demonstrate that we could compete on quality and that we could build the volume of cars on time, and we had to demonstrate that we could deliver value for money. To me, those are the three basic tenets of our business and we were able to compete on all those points.

"The big selling point we felt we had was our location. We said, location, location, location! We are a North American-based race car company and you will have five or six hours more each day that we will be available. We'll be able to supply you on a twenty-four hour basis, much quicker than you can deal with a European manufacturer, and you can also fly down here and fly home in the same day. So again, we stressed location, location, location!"

Atherton elaborated on Bowes's observations. "We felt confident that if we could secure the Champ Car business that it would literally be the shot heard around the motorsports world," Atherton said. "It wasn't that long ago that to even suggest that an American company could compete for legitimately and ultimately win the contract to build a car at this level would have been a joke. The odds would have been long--take the bet because it ain't gonna happen.

"By creating the company in the first place the vision that Don Panoz had was to build a completely-integrated US motorsports company that would have all the capabilities that heretofore you had to go to Europe to find," Atherton continued. "We had arrived on the scene as kind of the underdog and we felt that if we could secure this Champ Car business it would prove to anyone who had doubts that there really is an option here in the United States and not give up anything in technology, styling, and sophistication, and leave nothing on the table compared to working with a foreign entity.

"We felt strongly about the conveniences and benefits that could be realized by working with a domestic supplier would far outweigh whatever perceived benefits there were to working with a more established, better-known European supplier.

"If we're equal and on par from a technical standpoint and from the engineering capability and we have the added convenience of working in the same time zone, or in a worst-case scenario a three-hour difference, and the stability in dealing with the US dollar versus a foreign currency. We felt like these factors all played in our favor."

David Bowes said the biggest challenge in tackling the Champ Car program was meeting the sanctioning body's requirements for reduced costs. "In any other technology the progress of new technology is more technology for less," Bowes commented. "I believe Intel's philosophy is to deliver twice the technology at half the price. If you look at cameras, or computers, or road cars, if you compare products over the past few years, you're paying less for more technology. We are a technology company and that's the way the rest of the world is going so we have to follow. So the challenge is to deliver more for less price."

Company founder Don Panoz is proud of the work his engineers put into the new Champ car. "I think the challenge was to design a car that is quite a bit different from our Indy car because this is a car that turns right and left, goes up and down, and runs in varied track conditions," Panoz observed. "That requires a different foundation for the engineers. Also, we were particularly concerned with safety and I think our engineers did a good job with that. We've thoroughly crash-tested the car and it's exceeded all the criteria put forward by Champ Car and Formula One."

Scott Atherton said the Panoz Group tried to attract the best people from the company's creation at the turn of the century. "Whether you are a designer, engineer, aerodynamicist, composite laminator or fabricator, we have literally attracted some of the best and the brightest and given them the environment to do their best work," Atherton said. "It's almost like we're the United Nations here. It's more diversified than it was initially when many members of the motorsports industry from the United Kingdom were transplanted into Braselton, Georgia and kind of started UK West.

"Today, seven or eight years later, many of those initial seeds that were planted or brought in from outside the country are still here, but we've instituted programs with local technical colleges and recruited people from the industry in the United States who had heard about what was going on down here in Braselton, Georgia. Some people sought us out and in other cases we recruited them.

"So we've got a great, core group of people that represents wonderful stability," Atherton added. "It's not uncommon for our staff here to say that they've been here since the beginning, which I think is a testament to the environment, and the success that we've had makes it an attractive place to work."

Atherton said there were three primary challenges in tackling the new Champ Car program. "I believe the first challenge was achieved with flying colors and that was to hit the deadline for the debut of the car as originally planned," Atherton commented. "The debut of the car in San Jose from our perspective could not have gone better. I think we quieted what few dissenters there may have been. They have now been convinced that we can deliver the goods as planned.

"The next step is to make sure the car goes as good as it looks. That process is now underway and all indications are first impressions were outstanding and the future continues to look very bright for fulfillment of all the expectations about this car both to our company and to Champ Car.

"I think the third and final challenge is going to be our company's ability to provide the level of service after sales on an ongoing basis throughout the term of this agreeement, and I'm very confident that we'll have no issues there. We've been performing exactly that function very successfully in other aspects of our business on an ongoing basis now for many years and we'll look for the best and the brightest to assist us in that process."

Don Panoz is confident that the DP01 will prove to be successful on all fronts. "I think the proof will be in the pudding," Panoz said. "We've got to complete the test program and then start building the cars and supplying these cars in December and January. So there's a lot of work to be done, but we're looking forward to the result. They say if things look good they generally are good, and this car really looks spectacular. So we're looking forward to seeing it all unfold."

A dozen or so years ago before Reynard produced its first Champ car, I visited Reynard's operation in the UK. I remember being shocked by Reynard's lack of infrastructure and marvelling that if Reynard produced a successful car it would re-write the book on the economics of building Champ or Indy cars. It turned out that Reynard did exactly that, but the company didn't have the business discipline to survive longterm. In contrast, the Panoz Motor Sports Group is a very different animal with the backing, infrastructure and diversity to not only survive but thrive.

"I've put Don on a restricted diet as far as acquisitions for several years now," Atherton commented, "having convinced him that we really need to optimize what we have already under our umbrella here before we go for other opportunities. The next step for us is to mature the existing businesses and by that I mean expand the business within its core competency. We really don't need to step outside of our box. We're not looking for an entirely new market or industry to conquer.

"We want Champ Car to be our best resource for reference for other, similar opportunities that might come up in the future," Atherton concluded. "It's unlikely that we would entertain anything of the magnitude of the Champ Car project but there are lots of race cars to be built and we'd like our company to be the one to do it."

Don Panoz explained his view of where his company is headed. "We have some interesting contracts in our engine development group and we have some interesting contracts with other industries like aerospace and communications," Panoz observed. "We're looking for direction outside of motorsport where we find other areas of technology that our production capabilities fit, but at the same time we want to maximize our motorsport base. I think we've been doing that by picking up single-make series like Star-Mazda and working with SCCA on the cars we're supplying there and keeping our eyes open for other opportunities to broaden the base. So these are all the directions we want to go.

"I think right now in motorsport we probably are the largest builder of race cars in the world and I'd like to see that continue," Panoz added. "I also like to see the designs that the engineers come up with. They're very creative people and I'd like to see that translated into a really successful acceptance by the public with things like the new Champ car.

"We have a little motto that there is such a thing as the subtle difference of excellence, which is to do things really well. It's not to be in front of everybody's face about how well you're doing, but allowing your product to interact with people and gain credibility through its quality."

As Panoz said, the proof will be in the pudding.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
Copyright 2006 ~ All Rights Reserved

Top of Page