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Magnate wants F1 at Road Atlanta

DONALD E. PANOZ, the pharmaceutical multi-millionaire who is funding the construction of his own revolutionary road cars, says that he wants Grand Prix racing to visit Road Atlanta which he recently bought.

Panoz comes from a wine-making family which owns the Chateau Elan Winery & Resort, close to the Road Atlanta circuit. This features three 18-hole golf courses, six restaurants and luxury accommodation for its guests. Panoz set up his own pharmaceutical company - the Elan Corporation - in Athlone, Ireland and this has grown to become Ireland's most successful company. It has assets of $2.8bn and made profits last year of $147m and was recently ranked Europe's 319th largest company by the Financial Times in London, bigger than companies such as Pirelli.

Panoz then decided that he wanted to build his own cars and so established the Panoz Automotive Development Corporation, which is based in Hoschton, Georgia, just a few minutes from Road Atlanta. In June last year he unveiled the Panoz AIV Roadster - built in association with another Georgia-based company Alumax Inc. of Norcross - featuring an aluminum chassis in order to reduce weight, keep down costs and speed up the manufacturing processes. The car is powered by a Ford V8 engine and will be sold through Ford's network of 5000 dealerships across the United States. Panoz plans to build 200 cars in 1997 and 600 in 1998.

Panoz is also planning a second all-aluminum car called the Esperante which has only recently been launched. Racing versions of this car are being prepared for the new GT sportscar series with Reynard having designed the chassis and Dave Price's DPS Components having done the composite work. Price will run two cars for James Weaver/Andy Wallace and David Brabham/TBA while Jean-Paul Driot's DAMS operation will run a third for Eric Bernard/Paul Belmondo. The car is due to debut at Sebring.

Panoz appears to want to use motor racing as a means of promoting his products and the plan for a Grand Prix at Road Atlanta could do that successfully. Alumax is also interested in the sport, backing Bettenhausen Motorsport in CART racing.

Road Atlanta was opened in 1970 and was a popular venue for CanAm and Formula 5000 in the 1970s. It has long been considered the best road course in the United States and being close to the rapidly-expanding city of Atlanta has often been mentioned as a possible site for a United States GP. Previous owners have been unable to afford the work necessary to upgrade the track and the circuit has had a rocky history in the last few years, including a period of bankruptcy. It is worth noting that in 1992 F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone was among those bidding to buy the 2.52-mile circuit.

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