Ascari At Le Mans

Qualifying Build Up

Not that the drivers needed a competitive reminder, but four of the teams drivers (Klaas Zwart, Ben Collins, Werner Lupberger and Harri Toivonen) took a trip to the local kart track yesterday to loosely (very loosely) practice track discipline. The Boss (Zwart) came out victorious after a fierce battle with his other charges and the rapid Theresa Lupberger (wife of Werner) hounded the boys whom she will be looking after as a physiotherapist this weekend - finishing in a close fifth place.

The team that has been working flat out on converting the cars from double to single hoop specification for the past month or so put the finishing touches to the A410s this afternoon and as they took in a well deserved long lunch, Werner showed me around 'his new look office'; "We have lowered the seating position since the last race in order to get maximum aero performance. It does feel a little tighter but the advantage should be there with that change and the new rear aerodynamic package."

Team manager Ian Dawson echoed these thoughts and had his usual air of quiet confidence about the impending qualifying session. "The changes we have made to the car were all centred around getting a better rear end balance ensuring increased maximum downforce. We have new wheels that are some 10kgs lighter than the old ones and the new rear bodywork should complete our quest for more stability at the rear end."

On the critical matter of reliability, Dawson was forthright and sanguine. " We have done a hell of a lot of running in this car with the Judd engine and most of the original bits on the car. There is a new oil system, including pumps, but really we are as well prepared as we can be for a race of this nature. You simply cannot guarantee anything in a race like the 24 Hours."

Team owner Klaas Zwart (left) was as relaxed as anyone in the team as the first session approached and spun the philosophy of the team in qualifying by saying that, "We are unsure of the weather so it could be a good idea to get a time in the bag early on today. I'm not going to air any opinions or predictions but we are ready and raring to go."

Session 1

Team Ascari made a trouble free and positive start to their 2001 Le Mans campaign with 15th quickest time from the Werner Lupberger / Ben Collins and Harri Toivonen. This trio had been as high as 10th place but were bumped down in the last 15 minutes as other cars capitalised when the temperature dropped and more rubber was laid on the track.

Lupberger (above), who set the time of 3:44.731s in the gradually cooling session was well pleased with his effort; "We've done a lot of aerodynamic tweaks for this weekend so we're actually spending a lot of time on set up to make the new package work properly, so far it looks really promising."

Team boss Ian Dawson predicted more time to come from the QR 4U sponsored A410 Judd; "We've achieved what we wanted to do, we have had all six drivers in the cars. The balance isn't quite what we had at the Test Day but the track seems slower, but that seems the same for everyone at the moment and there is definitely more time to come from both cars."

The second car of team boss Klaas Zwart / Scott Maxwell and Xavier Pompidou ended up in 21st place after a session that saw some small downshift problem for team boss Zwart and new boy Xavier Pompidou. The Frenchman settled in well however, and got an initial feel for the car; "I feel at home in the car already and it feels quite easy to drive. I have more confidence to come from my foot on the carbon brakes. But apart from that everything went according to plan."

The team now goes in to the unknown as it is yet to run in full dark conditions and with a drama free first session behind them they are in a quietly confident mood.

Session 2

The second session started as dusk broke over the 13.6km circuit and Werner Lupberger immediately went quicker with a 3:42.931s on qualifying Goodyears.

But the South African was still left frustrated as a wayward Porsche spoiled his best lap, ironically at the Porsche Curves.

The 'Springbok's' second stint at the end of the session ended at Tertre Rouge when the engine let go and a small fire broke out at the rear of the car. The efficient marshals quickly extinguished it, necessitating a large clean up operation by the crew back in the pits

Ben Collins did a short stint in the ever-darker conditions...

...before the engine dramas, then handing over to Harri Toivonen who took over and had his first dark running since the he ran in a Kremer K8 in the 1996 Le Mans.

The second A410 chassis spent the first 35 minutes in the garage as an over-machined upright was changed and Scott Maxwell sat patiently until getting the signal to enter the fray. The car was still experiencing some clutch problems but still chipped away three seconds from its first session time, with both Maxwell and Pompidou getting much needed miles in the car. It was the Frenchman who excelled in the final hour of the session with a solid 3:46.398s.

Summing up the teams first day of action, team engineer Brian Ireland said," It was a shame about the engine problem, Werner just said it let go immediately and that was that. If we could have got a true clear lap in that last session then I think we could have lopped a few seconds off."

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

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