Sweat poured from Gerald Panneton’s body as he navigated the bumpy, tricky Sebring International Raceway for the first time in mid-March during the first two rounds of the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama season.
The air temperatureapproached 32 degrees Celsius (90 F), with even more heat inside his Porsche 911 GT3 Cup race car.
He enjoyed a successful debut in the International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)-sanctioned Single-Make Series at Sebring, earning a top-five finish in the Gold Cup class and winning the Yokohama Hard Charger Award in Round 2 – all with help from lessons he learned long ago in temperatures far frostier than the balmy early spring heat of Florida.
Panneton, 58, from Erin, Ontario, took up performance track day driving in sports cars eight years ago and began racing in 2015. But he has raced on skis since his boyhood in Trois-Rivières, Quebec, and some traits from that high-speed, adrenaline-filled sport carried over to auto racing and have helped him flatten his learning curve
“When you ski race, it’s no different learning the line (than in racing),” Panneton said. “It’s the same thing. If you miss the entrance of a gate, you’ll miss the exit.
“When you ski race, you have to feel the snow, the bumps, you have to feel the cracks, you have to feel the depressions, you have to feel the hill going up and going down. Car racing is the same thing. When you have tracks with some hills, you have the feeling like you’re on your skis. Feeling your ski and feeling the car is very important.
“That’s one of the advantages I have. If I do a mistake, I feel the car, I know what I did wrong, and I correct it.”
Panneton will take that growing knowledge base to two series and two standout Canadian teams in 2016 for his first season of IMSA competition.
He will race a new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport fielded by Pfaff Motorsports in the Silver Cup class for the entire Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama schedule. He also is driving a Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car in the Gold Cup class for Best Line Auto Tech and Mark Motors Racing in selected Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA by Yokohama events
The busy schedule is a symbol of Panneton’s growing love of auto racing, a pursuit he has embraced with even more passion since retiring two years ago as founder and chief executive of one of Canada’s most prominent gold mining companies, Detour Gold.
“I have more time to play, and that’s what I’m doing,” Panneton said.
But retired geologist and business executive Panneton is serious about making progress behind the wheel.
Panneton began his racing odyssey eight years ago when he participated in three summer track days. He continued that path with more powerful and faster street cars, taking a more serious step six years ago by working with three-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Marco Werner as his driving coach.
The next step came in 2014, when Panneton bought a new Porsche 911 Turbo S and turned approximately 5,000 kilometers (3,100 miles) of laps during track days at Canadian Tire Motorsport Park (CTMP) in Bowmanville, Ontario.
He decided to take the plunge into racing last year. He drove an 11-year-old Mazda RX-8 in the GT5 Sprint class of Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC) Ontario Region competition, finishing second overall in the class while honing his skills and learning how to race in the rain.
Panneton bought a 2006 Porsche 911 997 last year from three-time Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama Platinum Masters champion Marco Cirone. They teamed together in the car in a three-hour endurance race last September at CTMP, finishing second overall.
That fun, successful event caused Panneton to think bigger. A week later, he bought the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car that Orey Fidani drove to the Gold Cup championship in the 2015 Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama.
“The car was in good shape, the price was right, and I jumped in,” Panneton said. “But I had no idea whether I would race it or resell it.”
Panneton mulled his options and decided in November he wanted to race. He elected to run in a partial USA series schedule starting at Sebring with Best Line and Mark Motors Racing, for which Cirone also drives. Panneton also chose to race at home in the Canadian series with a new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport prepared by Pfaff Motorsports.
He initially had reservations about racing in the Gold Cup class at Sebring, but his steady, sure progress quickly eliminated those concerns. His best time during the first practice session was 2 minutes, 20.215 seconds. But just a few hours later, Panneton sliced his quick time to 2:17.8 in the second practice as he continued to learn the delicate dance to reach the edge of the Yokohama tire’s slip angle, something he is concentrating on with help from his two racing Marcos, Werner and Cirone.
Panneton improved even more in the second 45-minute race, turning his best lap of the event, 2:17.375. He started 32nd and finished 21st overall, earning the Yokohama Hard Charger Award.
“I’ve always been told to go to Sebring and try the track,” Panneton said. “Initially I was not going to bring the Cup car down. It was maybe a step too fast, but I’m up for the challenge. And I think I proved I’m not the fastest one, that’s for sure, but when I was at Sebring, I did improve. Most of my laps (in races) were 2:17, 2:18.”
That Sebring success caused Panneton to briefly consider racing the entire Gold Cup season in the USA. But he already had committed to racing in the Silver Cup class in Canada in the newly introduced Cayman GT4 Clubsport, a car that excites him.
“I made the decision to go GT4 before Sebring, so I thought it would be fun to try the new Cayman GT4,” Panneton said. “It’s a mid-engine car, so it should be interesting. It’s a 3.8 liter; it’s not a small engine.
“I’ve got the best of all. I have three Porsches to race this year. In September, at the end of the season, I can decide which one I want to race next year.”
About Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama
The Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama enters its sixth season in 2016 ready to produce more intense, exciting competition for semi-professional and aspiring professional drivers in the world’s most produced and iconic race car, the Porsche 911 GT3 Cup, and the new Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport. The International Motor Sports Association (IMSA)-sanctioned championship is one of 20 global Porsche single-make Cup Racing series and is the perfect platform for aspiring drivers to ascend to the highest levels of GT competition, such as the WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Racing in the Ultra 94 Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada by Yokohama is divided into three classes – Platinum Cup, featuring the 2014-16 model Porsche 911 GT3 Cup car, which is based on the seventh, and current, generation of the street car; Gold Cup, which is comprised of the previous iteration (model years 2010-2013) of the race car; and the Silver class consisting of competitors in the new Cayman GT4 Clubsport. A Masters Championship also is conducted in the Platinum class. Each class is awarded with its own podium at the end of every race and individual champion at the end of every season. Points are awarded by finish in class.
Source. LST Marketing