Transatlantic review: Don Panoz, 1935-2018

by Samarth Kanal on 13th September 2018

The latest US news round-up from the past two weeks

Don Panoz: 1935-2018 // Furniture Row to fold // 2019 IndyCar calendar announced // Ferrucci back to IndyCar // Kasey Kahne takes a break // Alonso and Johnson share a phonecall…

Don Panoz, who died this month

Don Panoz: 1935-2018 

Sports car team owner, entrepreneur and IMSA vice chairman Don Panoz died at the age of 83 on Tuesday.

Don Panoz funded his son’s eponymous racing manufacturer in 1989, which later became Panoz Motorsport in 1997 and raced around the world.

The 1997 Panoz Esperante GTR-1 competed with the likes of Mercedes, Lotus, Porsche and McLaren, while the Esperante GT2 took a class victory at Le Mans. Later developing a series of innovative prototypes, his bold DeltaWing project once occupied ‘Garage 56’ at La Sarthe before a long campaign back in the States. 

As owner of Road Atlanta, the pioneer created the popular Petit Le Mans event that has become a staple of the endurance racing calendar. In 2014 he helped unify sports car racing in the United States, when his American Le Mans Series merged with Grand-Am.

He passed away from pancreatic cancer on September 11. 

Earlier this month, Historic Sportscar Racing owner George Tuma died at the age of 65. 

The HSR historic racing club was formed in 1977 and organises the IMSA Classic 24 Hours of Daytona, the Classic 12 Hours of Sebring and other major historic racing events.

“All of us at HSR are devastated by the loss of our friend, colleague and leader,” read a statement from the HSR.

“What HSR is today quite simply would not exist without George, and it is no exaggeration to say it will never be the same without him. The more time you spent with George the more you saw his true enthusiasm for racing, and historic racing in particular.”

Tuma’s life will be celebrated at the fourth Classic 24 Hour at Daytona on November 7-11.

Motor Sport extends its condolences to the family and friends of Don Panoz and George Tuma.

Martin Truex Jr celebrates his NASCAR Cup win

Furniture Row to fold

Reigning NASCAR champions Furniture Row Racing will shut down at the end of the 2018 Cup Series, just a year after Martin Truex Jr claimed the title at the wheel of the team’s no78 Toyota.

A statement from team owner Barney Visser read: “This is not good for anybody. The numbers just don’t add up. I would have to borrow money to continue as a competitive team and I’m not going to do that. This was obviously a painful decision to arrive at knowing how it will affect a number of quality and talented people.  

“We’ve been aggressively seeking sponsorship to replace 5-hour ENERGY and to offset the rising costs of continuing a team alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing but haven’t had any success.

“I feel that it’s only proper to make the decision at this time to allow all team members to start seeking employment for next year. I strongly believe that all of our people have enhanced their careers by working at Furniture Row Racing.” 

The Colorado-based team is a satellite of front-running squad Joe Gibbs Racing and profited from the partnership with the 2017 championship win. Last year it fielded two cars, including the no77 driven by Erik Jones who won ‘Rookie of the Year’ and drives the no20 JGR Toyota this season.

FRR was founded in 2005 and has fielded drivers such as Joe Nemecheck, Kenny Wallace, Regan Smith and Kurt Busch – who joined Stewart-Haas from FRR in 2014.

Team owner Visser, who also owns the US furniture chain, suffered a heart attack before Truex surprised many to win the 2017 championship.

“I’ve always felt that we could be a competitive team and run for a championship even when it seemed like a pipe dream to many racing insiders,” he said. “We achieved what we set out to do and feel like we climbed Mount Everest. To continue with anything less than a competitive team would not be acceptable.” 

He thanked his crew members, family, team and sponsors, as well as NASCAR and its media partners, adding that the heart attack was a “wake-up call” as Visser aims to spend more time with his family.

Truex, 38, is expected to find a 2019 seat and said: “While I am saddened by today’s announcement, I totally understand the decision. Barney Visser, [crew chief] Joe Garone and the entire Furniture Row Racing team took me in while my career was in a bad place, and together we reached the pinnacle of the sport.”

He endured a 124-race winless streak between June 2007 and June 2013, with FRR itself taking just two wins between 2011-15 before Truex stepped in to replace the outgoing Kurt Busch.

Between 2016 and ’18, FRR has won 16 races and Truex currently sits third in the standings.

The start of the 2017 Indy 500

2019 IndyCar calendar announced

The 17-race 2019 IndyCar schedule was announced on September 4, including a new race at Formula 1 venue COTA and the new finale at Laguna Seca on September 22, 2019.

The other main changes include a date change for the Barber Motorsports Park race, moving two weeks forward to April 7 and Iowa’s night race moving back by two weeks to July 20.

NBC Sports Group holds the full broadcasting rights for the 2019 season, airing eight races including the Indy 500 weekend on NBC. The remainder of the races will be shown on NBCSN, streamed on NBCSports.com and its app. BT Sport has the television rights in the UK through to the end of the 2022 season.

Round Date Circuit
1 March 10 St Petersburg
2 March 24 COTA
3 April 7 Alabama
4 April 14 Long Beach
5 May 11 Indianapolis GP
6 May 26 Indianapolis 500
7 June 1 Detroit
8 June 2 Detroit
9 June 8 Texas
10 June 23 Road America
11 July 14 Toronto
12 July 20 Iowa
13 July 28 Mid-Ohio
14 August 18 Pocono
15 August 24 Gateway
16 September 1 Portland
17 September 22 Laguna Seca

Ferrucci back to IndyCar 

After Haas Formula 1 junior driver Santino Ferucci’s two-round ban from Formula 2 for driving into Trident team-mate Arjun Maini in July, he’s now been called back to IndyCar. 

The 20-year-old American drove for Dale Coyne Racing at Portland on September 2, finishing 20th, and will contest the final race of the schedule at Sonoma this weekend in a three-car team alongside Pietro Fittipaldi and Sébastien Bourdais.  

Ferrucci made his IndyCar debut for DCR at the Detroit double-header earlier this year, colliding with Charlie Kimball and Spencer Pigot in the two races. 

“We were very impressed with Santino at Detroit this year, and not just by his performance behind the wheel, but also by his professionalism and maturity outside of the race car,” said team owner Dale Coyne.  

“We’ve had lengthy discussions with Santino in the past few months and we’re excited to have him back for the final two rounds of the season. We look forward to seeing what he will do with this opportunity as he gets back behind the wheel of an Indycar. We’re also happy to welcome Cly-Del to our ever-growing family of sponsors.”

Kasey Kahne, who's stepping back from NASCAR

Kasey Kahne takes a break

Leavine Family Racing driver Kasey Kahne will sit out the next three NASCAR Cup Series races as heat exhaustion struck during the race at Darlington on September 2. He had to sit out Monday’s (rain-delayed) race at Indianapolis.

Replacing him in the no 95 for Las Vegas, Richmond and Charlotte will be Regan Smith.

Alonso and Johnson share a phonecall…

Meanwhile, the Fernando Alonso PR drive continues...

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