JML Team Panoz brought the 2003 ALMS season to a spectacular close by finishing second and fourth in Saturday's Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta - the team's best overall finish of the year.

Olivier Beretta, David Saelens and Max Papis took second aboard their #10 Panoz LMP-01, while the #11 car of Gunnar Jeannette, Scott Maxwell and Benjamin Leuenberger were unlucky to suffer some problems during the 1000 mile journey - just missing out on a podium spot in fourth.

The Audi of Johnny Herbert and JJ Lehto won the event while the #10 Panoz faced a race long battle to keep the #1 Audi of Frank Biela and Marco Werner at bay.

The Panoz got the upper hand after the Audi crashed early in the race and faced a long repair behind the wall. As the race drew to a close with Papis behind the wheel, the #10 Panoz still had a one-lap advantage of the newly crowned 2003 series champions.

The only problem faced by the #10 car was a pit lane penalty earned when one of the team tyre changes made contact with the car before the refueling was completed.

However, despite being assessed an immediate unverified penalty while the car was in pit lane under a safety car period, the race stewards later decided to again penalise the team a second time for the same offense.

Papis was forced to serve a stop-go penalty after the official decided that the original penalty should not have been completed under the safety car.

Reflecting on the race, Beretta commented: "At the start of the year we were really aiming to try and steal a win at some stage, but getting our sixth podium finish in a row is just as good.

"Today was a fantastic day for the team for both cars and a great way to finish the season. The Panoz ran the entire 1000 miles without a problem which was great. It was also a lot of fun out there racing with the Audi. David and Max did a great job and we formed a really good combination."

"What a great day, everybody on the team is really thrilled to finish on the podium with my mother and father visiting from Belgium was just fantastic," added Saelens, "Michelin did really well for us this weekend with some good compounds which were well suited to the heat of the day, plus the cooler night conditions.

"I have really enjoyed my first year here in the ALMS and delighted to get yet another podium with Oli. Max slotted in really well with us this weekend the our second car was pretty unlucky not to be up here as well."

"This is just a brilliant way to finish the season for JML Team Panoz," continued Papis, "We finished fifth at Sebring, fifth at Le Mans and now second and fourth at Petit Le Mans - it really was a great day for us.

"We certainly didn't expect to do as well as we did but the real credit has to go to the crew which did a really outstanding job. Our car ran faultlessly all day and I am very pleased that we put on a great show for the local Panoz fans."

The #11 Panoz meanwhile endured a tough journey throughout the day, losing several laps with power steering problems.

The drivers also battled with no on-board dash readings or shift lights - an intermittent electrical problem which hindered their progress.

"I am amazed this old horse keeps trucking on the way it does and we really had a great day with second and fourth overall," said Maxwell, "I am a little disappointed that we didn't get third, but we had a power steering problem which probably cost us five or six laps overall which would have put us ahead of the other Audi. Still it is a great reward for all the guys at JML Team Panoz and a really great way to finish the 2003 season."

"All in all it was a pretty good day because we overcame some serious problems with the car," commented Jeannette, "Some people may think the power steering going out is no big deal but when you are turning at well over 100 miles an hour and experiencing 3 gs in the corners, the power steering certainly helps a great deal.

"Eventually we got it repaired, but we couldn't double stint for a while which cost us a bit of time. I am pretty happy and the team had a great day, but it would have been great to get both cars up there."

"Overall I am very happy with the result but I am not sure whether to laugh or cry," concluded Leuenberger, "It was a very tough race for us because we spent quite a bit of time with no power steering and the dash also stopped working for quite a long while.

"We ran for a while in third place and maybe we could have stayed there if it wasn't for those problems. But I do have to thank the team, they did a fantastic job."

The JML Team Panoz squad will now set its sights on the return of the Panoz GTR coupe which will race in the Le Mans 1000km event on the Bugatti circuit in France on November 9.

 

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