The return of the Panoz 'Batmobile' GTP car did not go exactly to plan at the inaugural Le Mans 1000km, as myriad problems saw the event end early for the American marque.

Olivier Beretta made a brilliant getaway to leap from eighth on the grid to fifth at the start, despite having to dodge a opening lap spinner in the process. However, with persistent rain falling on the Le Mans Bugatti circuit, the Monegasque driver fell victim to a fogged-up windscreen as early as the second lap, causing him to misjudge his braking point and run off the circuit. The car lost four laps in the gravel trap before getting back on track and was not able to fight back from this early set-back.

Then, although climbing back into the top twelve at one stage, a persistent starter motor problem forced the JML Team Panoz crew to remove the rear bodywork at each pit-stop, ensuring further delays.

"It was very tough at the start of the race, because the pace lap was slow and there was very little air flowing into the cockpit to help keep the screen clear,| Beretta explained of his misadventure, "I really couldn't see a thing in the first couple of laps and just missed my braking point.

"The car hasn't run for four years, but it still showed it was quick enough. We improved it every time we hit the track, but things didn't work out on race day."

After Beretta had completed an opening double-stint, team-mate David Saelens climbed aboard the Panoz, only to suffer a spin on intermediates tyres. Fortunately, the Belgian was able to keep the car running, as the starter motor problem had reached the point where the car required attention from the crew to restart, and switched to Michelin slicks shortly after the marshals had assisted his extrication from the gravel trap.

However, as the race wore on, the #10 Panoz began to suffer gear-shift problems as well as falling battery voltage due to a faulty alternator. After several long visits to the pits - in which the team replaced the battery, but Saelens continued to suffer shifting problems - the car eventually ran its final lap with an hour to go, completing 126 laps and being classed in 30th position.

"The day started really well in the wet warm-up, because the changes the team made overnight really improved the balance," Saelens reported, ""It was very promising before the start of the race, but things didn't quite work out how we planned. However, I think it was a very positive weekend and the entire crew worked extremely hard to even get this car built - let alone race it.

"It seems a bit of a shame the season is finished - it seemed to pass by so fast. Oli and I had a great run of podium finishes this year and, although we didn't finish the year as we would have liked, it can't be Christmas every day - we really can't be unhappy."

While disappointed with the end result, Panoz founder Don Panoz was proud to see his original racer from 1997 return to the track.

"We brought the old girl out of mothballs, gave her some new underwear and hit the track," he said, "Unfortunately, she pooped her pants pretty early in the race and we never caught up from there. "The car was still very fast and I am very proud of Oli and David and all the crew - they have done a fantastic job."

 

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