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Waiting for a United States GP

DON PANOZ announced just after we closed last week that he has recruited Jim Selwa, the chief executive of Lotus Cars USA to be vice-president and chief operating officer of Panoz Motor Sports. Selwa - who has been involved in the automobile industry since 1971 - will be responsible for all Panoz racing activities and the renovation of the Road Atlanta racing circuit, which Panoz bought last November. The intention appears to be for Road Atlanta to be upgraded to host Formula 1 by 1999.

Selwa and Panoz visited the German GP and had a meeting with Bernie Ecclestone and the indications are that Road Atlanta is fast becoming the favorite venue for a United States race.

The 2.52 mile circuit is widely felt to be the most challenging road course in America, providing drivers with a roller coaster ride involving fast sweepers, steep climbs and sudden drops. The lap record, set in 1992 by Davy Jones in a Jaguar XJR-14 sportscar, has an average speed of 134mph. The track lacks run-off area for an F1 race and needs serious upgrading but it is no longer in the middle of nowhere as Atlanta has grown at such a rate that the track is now not far from the city. Atlanta's population is around three million but there are many more millions who live within easy reach of the city and the city has the necessary infrastructure for a big event thanks to the Olympic Games which took place in Atlanta last summer.

Ecclestone has long been a Road Atlanta fan. He worked closely with former owner Charles Sheron to try to organize a Grand Prix in the late 1980s and in 1992 actually tried to buy the circuit. He was outbid by a local consortium.

Money will not a problem for the Panoz family, which controls the highly profitable Elan Corporation in addition to a huge hotel, golf and winery development called Chateau Elan, close to the circuit. The Panoz Automotive Development Corporation is rapidly expanding its production of its all-aluminum sportscars, which are powered by Ford V8s and sold through Ford dealerships across the United States. Panoz is ambitious and appears to be planning to use motorsport to promote global awareness of the car company.

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