Maserati & Panoz Look To Finish Season On A Positive Note
LAGUNA SECA, Calif., October 14 , 2005 - Last year, Pirelli came to Mazda Laguna Seca Raceway for the American Le Mans Series (ALMS) season finale and clinched the coveted the ALMS Tire Manufacturers' P2 Championship in dramatic fashion in the rain. In P2, Pirelli-shod teams won seven of nine races and set seven fastest laps during the season as Clint Field and Robin Liddell drove the Intersport prototype to the IMSA Cup Championship, while Acemco Motorsports won the GT1 IMSA Cup on Pirellis as well. This year, though, the Pirelli-shod Maserati and Panoz teams are just looking for sunshine and some podiums at the Monterey Sports Car Championships to justify the promise they showed early in the season. At Road Atlanta, in only the second race of the season, Maserati scored its first North American podium in nearly 50 years and the Panoz Esperante upset the Porsches for its first GT2 victory ever. Later in the season, both teams were competitive with the Maserati setting fastest lap at Mosport and the Panozes challenging for podiums until late in many races. Considering that Pirelli and Maserati already clinched the 2005 FIA GT World Championship in Europe with Andrea Bertolini, Ferrari's primary F1 test driver, leading the Drivers' Championship with three victories in the past 12 months, Maserati might be discouraged with only two podiums on this side of the pond. In fact, it was forty-eight years ago, in 1957, that racing legends Juan Manuel Fangio and Jean Behra won the 12 Hours of Sebring with a Pirelli-shod 450S, Maserati's last victory in the U.S. with a factory car. But Bertolini and co-driver Fabrizio De Simone have enjoyed competing with the best GT sports cars in the world, including 5-time GT1 Champions from Corvette Racing. "Hopefully we'll be prepared for next season now that we have had a chance to experience all of the North American circuits," commented Bertolini. "Some of my American friends have told me of a favorite saying of the New York Mets baseball team: 'Wait until next year.' We're all looking forward to the 12 Hours of Sebring next March." In its first full year in the ALMS, the Pirelli-shod Panoz Motor Sports Esperante GTLM team was looking forward to the season with greater expectations. These expectations met with dramatic success at Road Atlanta as Bill Auberlen from Redondo Beach, Calif., first achieved a record-setting pole in qualifying followed by his teammate, Scot Robin Liddell, who held off a major challenge by the AJR Porsche to claim the teams first victory in the #50 Panoz. It was Auberlens second class win and Liddells seventh, but first in GT2. Liddell also set a new lap record during the race. At Laguna Seca, the second Panoz entry, #51, will be driven by regulars Bryan Sellers of Sacramento, Calif., and Marino Franchitti of Scotland. Rounding out the Pirelli-equipped teams for Road Atlanta will be series regulars: #71 Carsport America Viper of team owner Tom Weickardt and young Italian Michele Rugalo in GT1 and the #78 and #79 J3 Racing Porsches. The four-hour Monterey Sports Car Championships will get the green flag at 3:15 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday, October 15, and will be tape delayed and aired by SPEED Channel from 1 to 5 p.m. (EDT) on Sunday. The ALMS Radio Web will have live coverage online at www.americanlemans.com. In addition, all ALMS races will again be televised live in Europe in a television arrangement between the series and MotorsTV, a European television channel dedicated to the world of motorsports. For the third year in a row, all ALMS races will also be covered by the American Forces Network. More information about Pirelli's motorsport activities, including the Pirelli Girls, can be found at www.us.pirelli.com.