FIA GT: Visteon Panoz Team Fights Full Out to the Finish
20 October 1998HOMESTEAD, Florida -- A number of factors, including weather and competitors' misfortunes, helped the #3 DAMS Visteon Panoz GTR-1 position itself for a dramatic late-race run at the leading Mercedes CLK-LM in the FIA-GT Touring Championship event at Homestead.
After qualifying fifth, the Visteon Panoz GTR-1, driven by Eric Bernard and David Brabham, moved into fourth spot after only two laps, while also setting fastest lap. It began to rain as the first round of pit stops approached, and when the drizzle turned to downpour, a full-course caution was ordered, as the competitors aligned behind the safety car.
At the re-start, the Visteon Panoz was running fifth, but benefited from a re-start infraction by the third- and fourth-place Porsches. Following the Porsches' 10-second penalties, the Visteon Panoz was firmly in third position. And when the second-place Mercedes spun on new slicks, Brabham, now driving, put the Visteon Panoz into second spot.
"The team made the right decisions at the right time," said David Brabham. "We were running as quick -- or slightly quicker -- than the Porsches all day."
Eric Bernard climbed in for the final stint and began turning laps two seconds quicker than the rest of the field in an attempt to hold off the third-place car and catch the race leader. But the late-race charge ended when, with minutes remaining, the Visteon Panoz nosed into the tire wall between Turns Two and Three. However, the car was able to continue -- albeit without its bonnet. Bernard pitted for a new nose section and continued, but the incident dropped the team to sixth place.
"We were a little bit fortunate -- and unfortunate -- today," said Don Panoz, founder of Panoz Motor Sports. "The folks we were chasing got some penalties, and then we were unlucky, but that's racing. It's been a great series all year in Europe. And as I've said before, with good rules, and a good show, the fans will come."
The season finale for the Visteon Panoz Racing Team is October 24-25 at Laguna Seca. On Saturday, one of the Panoz drivers -- David Brabham, Andy Wallace, or Eric Bernard -- will clinch the Professional Sports Car Racing Driver's Championship title. On Sunday Brabham and Bernard will compete in the final round of the FIA-GT championship.