Ascari At Le Mans
Pre Le Mans Test

With so much pre Le Mans testing going on behind closed doors, there was a refreshing openness about Ascari's penultimate pre Le Mans test at Snetterton on May 25. TotalMotorSport will be covering every aspect of the team's activities in France, so this article will help to set the scene.

Openness? Well, if you came back from Le Mans on May 6 with the tenth best time among the Prototypes - a 3:38.399 - ahead of six factory cars in LMP900, what have you got to hide? Team Manager Ian Dawson was cautiously optimistic about that week in the middle of June, while Team Owner Klaas Zwart was...just cautious. Ian Dawson: "It's not a race, it's just going around in circles. It's the total opposite of a conventional race."

Klaas and Harri Toivonen were present yesterday, and for the Dutchman, it was his first chance to get behind the wheel since Donington Park last August. "I didn't race there, the car had electrical failure before the start. I just want to get some miles in today."

The plan worked very well. Chassis #2, the single roll hoop car at Donington's ELMS meeting in April - was in virtually full Le Mans trim, so hardly suited to Snetterton. Klaas didn't take long to settle in, soon requesting an adjustment to the brake pedal and a check on the 'fingers' of the sequential gearbox, which was slightly reluctant to pop down a gear into the Esses. With those minor matters fixed, he was off on a ten lap run. Times weren't the target, more getting Zwart settled in the car before he partners Patrick Lemarie and Scott Maxwell at La Sarthe next month. He ended up just outside the 60 second mark, which compares favourably with recent times here, especially for a car in Le Mans trim. But if you set a 3:38 on May 6, there's no pressure to set times......

The driver combinations were only settled half way through the day, when Ian Dawson completed discussions with the Ascari owner. Harri Toivonen had expected to spend a couple of hours in the afternoon in 'his' Le Mans chassis, but that would turn out not to be the case. He didn't mind at all, more than happy to be partnering Ben Collins and Werner Lupberger. Their tub is currently being converted to single roll hoop spec.

Ian Dawson: "We're raising the standard from where we were. The Monza 1000 KM showed how far we have come, plus Le Mans of course. At Monza, we'd have taken the win but for the car struggling to fire up at the last stop. But 1000 KM there plus 800 on one chassis and 1000 on the other on May 6...we're very happy with the reliability issue.

"We're increasing the staffing level prior to Le Mans, but we'll keep to that level afterwards. I've got it in the back of my mind that we ought to take two cars to Atlanta later on this year (there's a space in the European programme then), and there's a plan to raise the level of the cars substantially for 2002. We're also moving the workshop to Banbury after Le Mans, and then we'll bring the road car project there as well."

The only new component to be tried today was the a lower tail section. This is substantially lower over the rear wheels, and should provide another few kph on the four fastest sections at Le Mans. The single roll hoop itself provides 8-10 kph over the full roll hoop car.

Harri and Klaas were looking forward to their Le Mans drives. Harri: "I love everything about it. Werner and I will be taking our roller blades with us, and I'm going to take him round the track on the weekend before the race. We'll stop and have coffee, talk about the track....." This will be his fourth Le Mans, his best result a ninth place with JJ Lehto and Manuel Reuter on his debut in 1991.

For Klaas, Le Mans is "the race I've been trying to do for 10 years." He was down to race a Chamberlain Esprit in 1994, but "the wheels fell off it before I got in." Then there was the effort with the first Ascari in 1995. "We built that in 11 weeks, and it ran for the first time in Pre-Qualifying, but it broke a driveshaft." He couldn't get it close to four minutes, and it didn't make the cut.

That sounds a little like the Ascari effort last year. It's all different this time. There's a new sponsor on the car too. The product is QR-4U, developed by a very clever man by the name of Eric Llewellyn. More on this fascinating product in due course, but simply, it's a revolutionary new vitamin drink which targets cells directly and has some wonderful properties. It will be launched in four weeks time. The Ascari mechanics will be using it throughout Le Mans week, so expect to see them full of energy and vitality. Maybe not at 4pm on Sunday afternoon though, if everything goes to plan......

Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours
Official website of the Le Mans 24 Hours

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