Panoz Esperante GTR-1 #54 – Spark

1997 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 #54
Pilots: A. Wallace, J. Weaver, B. Leitzinger
Team: David Price Racing
Race: DNF (GT1 class) at Le Mans in 1997
Spark - S4869 (resin)

Published 07/01/23

Donald “Don” Panoz, born in 1938, started his financial empire in the pharmaceutical industry. By the late 90s, now a wealthy man with vast business ventures, he looked into motorsports. In 1997 he founded Panoz Motorsports, with one objective: to make a Le Mans-worthy car. And that car was the Panoz Esperante GTR-1. Designed and built by Adrian Reynard, the GTR-1 was a very different animal compared to the competition. First thing you notice is the looks. The GTR-1 has a very distinctive look, to the point of receiving the nickname “Batmobile”. And looking at Tim Burton’s 1989 “Batman”, it’s easy to see the resemblance to that Batmobile. Yet, the most distinctive quality of the GTR-1 was that it was front-engined (though with RWD). The last front engine prototype raced some thirty or so years prior. The idea behind the concept was to have a more balanced car, weight-wise. 

At the time, almost all big manufacturers tried their hand at the GT1 class.

Created in 1993, the GT1 class basically allowed manufacturers to create a race prototype masquerading as a road legal car. And just as important, FIA demanded the production of only one road legal car. Like the industry’s big dogs (Porsche, McLaren, Mercedes, Toyota, Jaguar, Nissan and Lamborghini), Panoz jumped on the opportunity. Per regulations, they also only made one street legal car, with a lavish interior and with an iridescent paint job. The actual race car, however, was a no-nonsense pure-breed racing machine. Developed by Roush Racing, the engine was a 5998 cm³ Ford V8. Made entirely of aluminum, with fuel injection and a dry sump, it delivered 471 kW (640 hp) and 599 Nm of torque. To keep weight in balance, the GTR-1 had a 6-speed rear-mounted transaxle transmission. The chassis was a light and rigid carbon fiber composite monocoque tub, with push-rod double wishbone front and back suspension. 

Rare to see such a long bonnet in a modern race car.

The Esperante GTR-1 debuted at the 12 Hours of Sebring, in March 1997. It displayed an impressive performance, breaking the track’s lap record. On its maiden race! Fastest time notwithstanding, later on an electrical problem retired the car. Though the GTR-1 DNF, it had proven itself. Three months later, it was time for the main event, Le Mans. Two teams arrived at La Sarthe with the Esperante GTR-1. British David Price Racing came with two cars, while French Societé DAMS brought one. Unfortunately, none of the three cars finished the race. David Price’s car #54 abandoned at mid race, with DAM’s #52 following two laps later. GTR-1 #54 (chassis #003) lasted the longest, abandoning the race on lap 236 with engine problems. As always with Le Mans, just being fast is never enough. 

Esperante, LMP-1 Roadster and the coolest of them all, the GTR-1.

Panoz Motorsports produced quite a few cars after the GTR-1, like the LMP-1 Roadster and the Esperante GTLM. Don Panoz also founded the American Le Mans Series in 1999, bringing European-style endurance racing to the USA. Sadly, he passed away in 2018. However, his cars left their mark in motorsports. I for one have a huge soft spot for them, especially for the GTR-1. I was a tremendous fan of Tim Burton’s Batmobile, so it was delightful to see it at Le Mans. Or so to speak 😁. This is a recent release (early 2023) from Spark, and it’s nothing shy of perfect. Though not a successful car, I think it’s unique enough to be an asset for most racing collectors. And of course, if Spark ever made the road version of the car, it would be a must buy for me.

Soooo, Spark, how about the road-legal GTR-1? Pretty please??? 🥰

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