Racing

Petit Le Mans – an American Love Story

They call it Petit Le Mans. For 25 years, this race has marked the culmination of the American endurance racing world championship, now known as IMSA WeatherTech. And this in a country where nothing else is small or cute. Why is that?

  • Text & Bilder
    Matthias Mederer · ramp.pictures

Big Apple, Big Mac, Big Dreams – you already notice the dimensions in which the average American usually thinks. So, how can it be that the most important race in the endurance championship, Petit Le Mans, is referred to as 'little Le Mans'? After all, we're talking about a country where even the coffee-to-go cup has more volume than a European compact car's engine capacity?


The obvious thought: it's self-irony. Though it's hard to believe in the Land of Hope and Glory.

Nevertheless, landing at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport realigns things: nearly 100 million passengers in 2022, a global record. A bus shuttles between the international and domestic terminals, a 20-minute ride. The airport covers around 2,000 hectares. Yes, that's a lot of football fields. And this scale continues. On eight, ten, or even twelve-lane highways, one heads towards the racetrack. A Porsche Cayenne, the largest vehicle in Porsche's current lineup, appears swift, light, and agile amidst giant trucks, Ford Raptors, and Chevi Apaches. Rightly so, embodying the core idea of any Porsche. Fits somehow.

Compared to Le Mans, where over 300,000 visitors gathered in a place designed for a community of 150,000, chaos remains pleasantly contained. A bit of traffic on the – yes, this exists too: single-lane country road – and then it reveals itself, snugly nestled over the undulating landscape in the lush, leafy state of Georgia.

A total of 4.088 kilometers of track, twelve turns. At the 'big brother' in France, the permanent circuit alone spans 4.419 kilometers. In the 24-hour classic, an additional 9.207 kilometers of public roads come into play. Against this backdrop, and the fact that in the USA, it's merely a ten-hour challenge, the 'petit' becomes understandable.

At the 'big brother' in France, the permanent circuit alone spans 4.419 kilometers. In the 24-hour classic, an additional 9.207 kilometers of public roads come into play.

That explains the 'petit,' but it doesn't clarify why Americans specifically borrowed from a European racing classic for its name. They could have named it Atlanta's Greatest or something similarly modest. But no, it had to be Le Mans. The reason lies years back and illustrates that Petit Le Mans has been more than just the IMSA series finale for many years. The late American racing enthusiast, Don Panoz, for reasons unknown, fell in love with France and pretty much everything associated with it. This must have been in the early 1990s. At that time, he made his main living selling nicotine patches. But he wanted more. 

So, he started growing wine. That wasn't enough. He sent his Panoz Esperante GTR-1 to the 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Still not enough. He wanted his own Le Mans race. Hence, he secured the rights for a Petit Le Mans in the USA from the Le Mans organizer ACO (Automobile Club de l’Ouest). The first race took place in 1998 and was an instant success. Yet, that wasn't enough for Panoz. He thought American. So, he founded his own racing series, the American Le Mans Series. Over the years, this attracted major manufacturers with their prototypes to the USA. Now, the race is considered a true classic and the pinnacle of the IMSA series. Endurance motorsport in the form it's practiced in the USA today wouldn't be conceivable without Petit Le Mans and Panoz's fondness for France.

The audience is as diverse as America: a bit of Hollywood, a bit of New York City, and a lot of the Midwest. Someone brings a respectable boat on a tractor. From up there, he and his friends enjoy a magnificent view of the track. Others park their motorhomes, the size of a three-bedroom apartment, directly behind the guardrails. In the shade, two to three monitors hang: one showing baseball, another basketball, and, of course, the live race. Barbecue weather prevails the entire weekend.

True to the old football saying: 'The truth lies on the field!' But in motorsport, especially the action in the race counts. And Petit Le Mans certainly doesn't need to hide from its illustrious namesake. Much to the dismay of Porsche Penske Motorsport. Barely an hour into the race, the leading Porsche 963 with Nick Tandy at the wheel collided with two competitors. Uninvolved, the LMDh heads to the pit. It takes an hour before the car can hit the track again, only to end up in the barriers after another contact – game over.

This year, Porsche Motorsport participated in both the WEC and IMSA not with a factory team but alongside Penske Motorsport. This is the private team of Roger Penske, who has written a success story in motorsport over the past decades, like very few have in North America. Moreover, he has accomplished something that in Big America would almost equate to a marketing miracle. In the mid-2000s, he made the smart a success here. Yes, you read that right: the smart! So, there must be somewhere in this vast land a hidden love for small things.


Beyond that, our columnist Kurt Molzer in the current rampstyle No. 30 – Blue Skies writes about the great stories the IMSA series has delivered in the past.

Matthias Mederer

Matthias Mederer

Editor & Photographer
One car. One camera. A driver. The location? Gladly a city like New York, Cape Town, Berlin or Tokyo. If, on top of that, a typhoon passes through, the conditions are almost ideal. Matthias Mederer may swear like an ill-bred bare-nuckle fighter, but he also delivers. Compulsory and freestyle. His style: cinematic. "Basically, it's like a harmless Tarantino film for me: good soundtrack, a few crazy dialogues and with a few little tricks, in the end it's mainly the story that makes the mark." Well, and he can also write more than remarkably.
rampstyle #30 Blue Skies

rampstyle #30 Blue Skies

Nach »All Summer Long« jetzt das Folgeheft »Blue Skies«. Schlüssig. Denn wenn man etwas mehr über den britischen Singer-Songwriter Chris Rea weiß, schließt sich damit ein schöner Kreis. »Blue Sky« ist eine von Reas Lieblingsmetaphern. Der blaue Himmel das Bild für einen hoffnungsvollen Blick auf das, was kommen wird.

Similar articles

Our Bestsellers

  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.
  • ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    ramp #63 Happy on the Road
    20,00 EUR
    Happy on the road? You bet. For any respectable car culture magazine, after all, being happy on the road is a mandatory prerequisite. Over time, and with a little bit of luck (which is, after all, a close relative of happiness), these feelings cheerfully blossom into an emotional foundation that ...
  • rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    rampstyle #30 Blue Skies
    20,00 EUR
    After “All Summer Long” here’s our follow-up issue with the title “Blue Skies”. Of course. Because readers who know a little something about the English singer and songwriter Chris Rea will have already noticed how we’ve come full circle here. The blue sky as a symbol of hopeful optimism about what’s to come.
  • ramp #62 Wild Things
    ramp #62 Wild Things
    20,00 EUR
    Just heading along, the journey itself a wonderfully blank page that presents itself to us with a cheerful unpredictability, as an inspired playing field for trial and error, for curiosity and spontaneity, unexpected surprises and flights of fancy. Wild and untamed. Just like life itself.
  • Director’s Cut: Luxury
    Director’s Cut: Luxury
    125,00 EUR
    Luxury is enticing and exciting, polarizing and provocative, not to mention that it is good for the economy. But the essence of luxury goes far beyond the material. Luxury appeals to our senses, our dreams and our desires. It immediately evokes images that are as precise as they are diverse. Luxury also triggers some pretty clear opinions – both favorable and unfavorable.
  • rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    rampstyle #29 All Summer Long
    20,00 EUR
    Barcelona in summer. With Alvaro Soler - and a Porsche 911 SC. An approach to the phenomenon and the person Yves Saint Laurent. We spoke with Udo Kier in Palm Springs, and Luc Donckerwolke in his garage. And then there's the cover - and the associated story of House of Spoils.
  • Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    Porsche 911 Everlasting Love Stories
    99,00 EUR
    Sixty years of the Porsche 911 – sixty years that stand for very personal, highly emotional relationships of love involving this sports car. Stories marked by love, lust and passion. Captured in this high-quality illustrated book.
  • ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    ramp #61 Love Is in the Air
    20,00 EUR
    Blue skies, the scent of fresh grass, the warmth of the moment – but above all: sunshine. The light of the sun’s rays, scientists say, is the decisive factor at the beginning of the warm season that triggers the merry mix of happiness hormones which energetically drive us headlong into the summer.
  • rampstyle #27 By the Way
    rampstyle #27 By the Way
    20,00 EUR
    Did you know that between thirty and fifty percent of all scientific discoveries are the result of coincidence? Velcro, Viagra, X-rays – sometimes people find things without even looking for them, but they are rewarded with an unexpected alternative.
  • rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    rampstyle #28 Into the Great Wide Open
    20,00 EUR
    An exclusive fashion editorial with Tim Bendzko. Unseen pictures by photographer Anouk Masson Krantz. A conversation with star director Guy Ritchie and a somewhat different interview with musician Dan Auerbach. All this and much more awaits you in this issue of rampstyle.
  • Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    Director’s Cut: The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. Alongside exclusive design sketches, an overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • The Lamborghini Book
    The Lamborghini Book
    100,00 EUR
    Author texts, expert interviews and aesthetically pleasing imagery do the brand justice in all aspects and make the book a must-have for all car fans and Lamborghini enthusiasts. An overview of all series models with full technical specifications completes this extraordinary and ambitious book project.
  • ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    ramp #60 Too Cool to Handle.
    20,00 EUR
    A magazine about coolness? Among other things. But one thing at a time. First of all, it’s off to the movies. There’s this businessman from Boston who helps relieve a bank of a substantial amount of money. The insurance companies are on to him, but they can’t prove a thing. That, in a nutshell, is the plot of...
  • ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    ramp #59 Tomorrow Is Yesterday
    18,00 EUR
    “Tomorrow Is Yesterday” was the title of an episode of the television series Star Trek, and although it was the nineteenth episode overall, it was the first to flicker into German living rooms fifty years ago this May. The story revolved around timelines and time travel.
  • rampstyle #26 Good News
    rampstyle #26 Good News
    15,00 EUR
    Two thin ovals far up inside a circle, a curved arc below, sketched on sunny yellow. In a split second, our brain has combined the elements into a smiling face, instantly putting us in a good mood. Wonderful! A smiley like that just feels good.
  • Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    Men’s manual - Best of rampstyle by Michael Köckritz
    29,00 EUR
    Existential questions are answered here: How do I build the perfect sandcastle? How do I start a band? Is there a perfect record player? (Spoiler Alert: yes, there is). Men´s manual is a supergroup of sorts: ramp and teNeues throw together their concentrated expertise in lifestyle.