The sound of the Elan Power Products V8 may have had a familiar ring, but sportscar fans this week have been treated to the sight of the Panoz 'Batmobile' for the first time since 1998.

JML Team Panoz has completed two days testing on the Le Mans Bugatti circuit in preparation for this weekend's Le Mans 1000km, the American-based squad having teamed-up with the French DAMS team, which is assisting in running the car this weekend. The DAMS mechanics are very familiar with the American coupe, having run the car during the 1997 and 1998 seasons in the FIA GT Championship.

Their assistance proved vital in yesterday's session, after the JML squad arrived late following the cancellation of their flight from the US on Monday night. The team sat on the runway for four hours while repairs were made to an engine problem but, after the repairs proved unsuccessful, the flight was postponed until the following night.

After initially looking like the team would miss Wednesday's activities, Belgian driver David Saelens took to the track with only the DAMS crew and his usual engineer and engine man on-site.

"Wednesday was quite a strange day - I didn't think we were going be running because the guys had trouble with the flight, but I am certainly glad we made it on track," Saelens said, "We improved the car quite a lot during the session and found about two-and-a-half seconds during the afternoon. The car is running exceptionally well and the progress we have made is quite extraordinary. The tyres Michelin have provided have been ideal for these conditions and I am really confident we are going to be quite strong on race day. Our American Le Mans Series program was very strong and I think we can continue that here."

Team-mate Olivier Beretta took over testing duties today [Thursday], with the full complement of JML and DAMS staff on hand.

The two days' three-hour testing sessions proved valuable in preparation for Saturday's two qualifying sessions and Sunday's 1000km event, and the car ran faultlessly throughout both days, despite not being active for some time. The only problem came at the end of the second day, when contact between Beretta and a slower car damaged the right hand side bodywork.

"The car is quite quick around here, but this weekend will be pretty tough because the opposition is very strong," the Monegasque driver admitted, "Teams like Pescarolo know this track very well because they are based only about 100 metres from the start-finish line!

"For us, it is an entirely new experience because this is a new car for David and I and it is the first time we have run on this circuit. I don't know whether we will have the outright speed in qualifying but, over a race distance, I think we will be very strong. David and I have had a great string of podium finishes in the American Le Mans Series and we would certainly like to continue that run this weekend."

 

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