LNT – Sebring 12 Hours
new car, the world’s most punishing sportscar endurance race
and a GT racing debutant in Tom Kimber Smith into the bargain. The
odds were against Team LNT from the very start. That was the bad
The good news was that Team LNT has already had
an entire season of battling against the odds with a pair of TVRs
that tested both the team’s resolve and their resourcefulness.
The introduction of no fewer than three Panoz Esperante
GTLMs to the Team LNT stable showed that the Lawrence Tomlinson-owned
squad was not only ready for another crack at the challenges of
international sportscar racing but was again prepared to do so by
taking on the established order.
They also had
the advantage of Richard Dean’s addition to the driving squad.
Yorkshireman Dean has been away from his sportscar racing roots
for a while but his driving CV includes the 1998 British GT Championship
title at the wheel of a Dodge Viper and, in 2001, a win for Panoz
in the European Le Mans Series at Vallelunga. Since then he has
concentrated on team management, Kimber-Smith being one of his proteges
in single seater racing, before joining LNT as Commercial Director
at the end of 2005.
An intensive programme of pre-season testing meant
that the crew arrived in Florida thoroughly familiar with the Esperante,
but lined up against them were some of North America’s best
GT teams - plus the punishing Sebring International Raceway, renowned
as a circuit that punishes teams and cars unprepared for its fast
and bumpy surface. But both Tomlinson and Dean were on the driving
strength when the team tackled Sebring at the start of last season.
a car breaker that’s for sure,” said team manager Rodney
Farrell. “And the Porsche teams have got proven reliability
on their side.” In addition to eight Porsche 911s, many of
them from teams with race winning pedigree in the ALMS, there was
a gaggle of other challengers from BMW, the Dutch Spyker Squadron
and the brand new and formidable Ferrari F430 of ALMS regulars Risi
Comptizione. Last, but by no means least, there was the pair of
full season ALMS contenders from Multimatic Team Panoz: the bad
news for Team LNT is that this team was a highly experienced squad
with much experience of the unique challenges posed by the 12 Hours
of Sebring. The good news was that they were campaigning a pair
of Esperantes and there was much that team LNT could learn from
From the off,
with Richard Dean taking the start at 10.43 on Saturday morning
(TV schedules dictated the odd timing), the #80 car made progress.
Lap one saw
the distinctive, bright orange Panoz making up ground and three
places on the opposition, the big V8 hammering along the bumpy main
straight, hard on the heels of a gaggle of Porsches (above).
the temperatures up close to 90 degrees at trackside, it was going
to be a long, hot day’s racing for the Team LNT trio. The
game plan was to run hard, fast but most of all reliably. To keep
the pace as fast as possible, the drivers would run single stints
for much of the race, with the Panoz getting as high as fourth in
class early in the event.
was blunted however by a combination of minor bodywork damage, as
the Panoz suffered contact twice owing to other contenders spinning
in front of it, and a grand total of four punctures as incidents
around the circuit left dbris on the racing line.
was a drive through penalty too, Richard Dean just a little too
eager to get the Panoz back to the pit crew after the first puncture.
Throughout it all though the car didn’t fall any lower than
its original starting position and, as others hit trouble,the Panoz
kept to its race plan and climbed up the order.
Dean and Tomlinson
pushed hard, but the star of the race for Team LNT was Tom Kimber-Smith.
He double stinted as the sun went down, despite suffering from intense
I’ve broken a rib,” he said as he prepared to climb
aboard the car for the last time. The Englishman had been suffering
from severe pain after taking a battering over the bumps earlier
in the week. Not only did he take the wheel of the Panoz, he also
had to fend off a chasing Porsche and Spyker and was battling hard
with a well-driven J3 Racing 911 too.
But this Panoz
is a tough machine, as proven by Brabham / Maxwell / Bourdais, who
didn’t suffer punctures – and came home at the head
of the class. In fact it was legendary Porsche reliability that
suffered, J3 losing its #79 car with a gearbox stuck in sixth: that
meant that the Team LNT Esperante came charging through the darkness
in fifth - and when the chequered flag dropped at 10:43pm, with
a huge firework display to welcome the survivors home, the #80 car
had secured 14th place overall, from 35 top class starters.
Team LNT had finished ahead of the other factory
backed Esperante but had also humbled several professionally crewed
Porsches including both the 2005 ALMS GT2 champions, Petersen-White
Lightning, and the 2005 Le Mans 24 Hours class winners Alex Job
“Tom drove a fabulous race,” said Richard
Dean. “In truth I think he was one of the best out there and
considering he is carrying an injury and it is his GT racing debut,
I reckon he has good reason to be proud.”
In the Team LNT motorhome afterwards the drivers
were tired but happy.
“I was happy for us to run our own pace and
the result proved that was the right strategy,” said Lawrence
“With hindsight we can say that without the
punctures, we could have challenged for a podium, but that was a
great run for the whole team, and for Panoz,” added Richard
To underline that assessment, Don Panoz then appeared
at the door to congratulate the team: fresh from handing around
a bottle of champagne to the LNT pit crew, he shook Tomlinson firmly
by the hand.
“With the win for the #50 car and your run
too it was the best result Panoz has had – so far. I look
forward to racing alongside you guys at Le Mans in June,”
said Don Panoz (series owner, team owner and all-round endurance
To put that
result into sharp perspective, just consider this. This is the best
result for a non-ALMS season regular team at the 12 Hours of Sebring
since 2000. That’s some achievement, and some calling card
ahead of both the Le Mans Series season to come and the final decision
as to whether the team’s second entry gets the nod for the
even more demanding 24 hours of Le Mans in June. If the ACO want
to see a grid consisting of fast, well-run and reliable GT2 cars,
they now need to add Panoz and Team LNT (again) to the roll call.
Next stop -
the British GT Media and Test Day at Silverstone (March 22).