Six independent US manufacturers who who made their mark at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2/2

Six independent US manufacturers who who made their mark at the 24 Hours of Le Mans 2/2

As Glickenhaus Racing gears up for its first outing at the 24 Hours of Le Mans, we look back at six high-profile American trailblazers – all independent manufacturers and team owners – who have left an indelible mark on the history of the 24 Hours since 1949. For this second and final installment, we shine a spotlight on Roger Penske and Don Panoz's legacy at the race, and their natural successor this year, Jim Glickenhaus.

Jim Glickenhaus: "I am proud that our small U.S.-based team, with help from our international partners and friends, will be a part of following in the footsteps of Jim Hall, Carrol Shelby and Briggs Cunningham." To this esteemed list can be added Don Panoz and Roger Penske. These two pioneers also embarked on extraordinary adventures at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Roger Penske, the "Captain" and Ferrari – First a driver prior to his brilliant success as a team owner and industry leader, Roger Penske discoverd the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 1963 with Ferrari, joining forces with Mexican driver Pedro Rodríguez. The latter secured pole position, but the duo was forced to retire due to a ruptured oil hose for Penske as he was in third position. It was his only participation as a driver before returning to Le Mans in 1971 as a team owner. That year, no factory Ferraris were entered in the race. But among the nine 512s on the starting grid, Penske's stood out. After acquiring a 512 (chassis N°1040) from Kirk Frank White, a Ferrari dealer in Philadelphia, the car underwent major modifications: reconstruction of the bodywork, the rear redesigned with a spoiler covering the entire width of the car and a magnificent midnight blue livery. The engine was meticulously optimized in the workshops of Traco, an expert in American V8s and Penske's official preparer. For the 1971 24 Hours, the 512 M was entrusted to American driver and Penske favorite Mark Donohue, and British driver David Hobbs. The #11 Ferrari had a promising start, climbing to second position hot on the heels of the Porsche 917 LH Gulf shared by Jackie Oliver and Pedro Rodríguez. But, on Saturday evening, shorlty after 20 hours of racing and 73 laps covered, the car was forced to retire with engine troubles. Its qualifying time of 3:18.5 was the fastest ever clocked by a Ferrari at Le Mans, and during the week, Penske had signed a partnership with Porsche to field the 917 in the Canadian-American Challenge Cup (Can-Am). During the past half-century, his exceptional success as a team owner and entrepreneur has made him one of the most powerful and influential figures in motorsport, earning him the honored nickname of "Captain." In 2023, it is possible he makes history once again: if Penske wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans that year, it will be Porsche's 20th victory and the 100th anniversary edition of the race.

Don Panoz, the refounder – The son of an Italian immigrant featherweight boxer, Don Panoz first made his fortune in pharmaceuticals thanks to the world patent of a nicotine patch of which he led the research group. The auto-related activities of his son Dan, begun in 1989 under the name Panoz Auto Development, grew exponentially after Panoz, Sr. took over the American circuit Road Atlanta in 1996 and then the founded Panoz Motorsports in 1997. The following year, based on the ACO's technical regulations at that time, Panoz created the American Le Mans Series. The championship is one of the cornerstones of the rebirth of endurance racing as we know it today. The unique silhouette of Panoz prototypes, due to their front engine, earned the nickname "Batmobiles" and made them a fan favorite. They regularly made it into the top 10 at Le Mans (seventh in 1998 and 1999, fifth in 2000 and 2003). In 2006, Panoz entered the 24 Hours hall of fame with a class win for the Esperante GTLM fielded by British outfit Team LNT and driven by Richard Dean, Tom Kimber-Smith and Lawrence Tomlinson. Then Panoz got involved in the DeltaWing project, the first occupant in 2012 of Garage 56 at the 24 Hours reserved for non-classed innovative prototypes.

Throughout the beginning of the 21st century, Panoz has greatly contributed to restoring the prestige of endurance racing across the Atlantic, and by extension in Europe, with the reconstruction of the discipline's pyramid, from the Michelin Le Mans Cup to the FIA World Endurance Championship, by way of the European Le Mans Series, Asian Le Mans Series and the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.

PHOTOS (Copyright - ACO/Archives): LE MANS (SARTHE, FRANCE), 24 HOURS OF LE MANS. At top: among the drivers of the Panoz Esperante GTLM to win their class in 2006 figured Richard Dean, current co-owner of 2020 24 Hours LMP2 winner United Autosports. Above: the Panoz LMP-01 prototype shard by Olivier Beretta, Gunnar Jeannette and Max Papis, fifth overall in 2003. 

Jim Glickenhaus, reinvented legacy – A movie producer and director, Jim Glickenhaus has enjoyed a passion for motorsport since childhood, particularly the years of the legendary Ferrari-Ford duel at Le Mans. He first paid tribute to that era with the construction of the P4/5, in reference to the 1967 Ferrari 330 P4. Now he is gearing up for his first race in the FIA World Endurance Championship before heading into his rookie 24 Hours of Le Mans. Jim Glickenhaus​: "I moved to manufacturing vehicles from the ground up when I realized that racing a modified Ferrari was a bit different than designing and engineering one of your own. The top class at Le Mans was my dream and in addition to road legal sports cars and Baja (all-terrain races in the U.S. and Mexico deserts, Ed.) capable vehicles. The new Hypercar class was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to follow my dream. So I assembled the best engineers, engine-builders and pit crews I could, and will arrive soon in the WEC with a car we designed from the ground up that has the DNA of the Le Mans cars." For his new adventure, Glickenhaus has recruited top notch talent: Joest Racing (15 wins at the 24 Hours) to run the car, Sauber (one of the best wind tunnels in the world) for the aerodynamics and Pipo Moteurs (as highly reputed at circuits as in rally) for the powertrain. His drivers are just as impressive: two-time 24 Hours winner Romain Dumas, 2016 LMP2 winner Gustavo Menezes, 12 Hours of Sebring and Rolex 24 at Daytona winner Pipo Derani, and versatile veteran drivers Ryan Briscoe, Olivier Pla and Richard Westbrook, as comfortable in prototypes as in GT. They will be joined by Franck Mailleux, a former contender in LMP2 and longtime auto-racing collaborator of Glickenhaus'. Given his means and ambition, is Glickenhaus the Jim Hall, Carroll Shelby, Briggs Cunnigham or Don Panoz of the 2020s? We will soon found out after his 007 LMH's first races.

PHOTO ABOVE (Copyright - Glickenhaus Racing): The Hypercar 007 LMH of Jim Glickenhaus, and the inspiration for its lines as seen in the prototypes of the 24 Hours of Le Mans in the 1960s.