Ascari At Le Mans

The Build Up

The day started early for Team Ascari, a legacy of that blown engine in the dying minutes of last night's final session. The race unit had to be fitted 24 hours early and the Judd engineers advised the team to do as minimal running this evening as possible, as there is only one of the slightly heavier and more durable Judd race units for this car.

That engine blow-up last night has put the team back badly in terms of track time, particularly in the dark, as both Ben and Werner just had a stint each last night. Harri was more confident that he could summon up the experience he gained in his previous Le Mans visits, but sympathised with his two younger team mates as he recalled a spectacular incident with the Kremer in 1996; "It was in qualifying and the thing just swapped ends on me at the second chicane and it came to rest in the barriers. As I got out I could smell oil and was sure that it hadn't been my fault so I went up to the marshals and told them that they should do their job properly. Then I looked at the back of the car and saw that it was my own oil I had spun on. I apologised at once to the marshals. Very embarrassing."

Talking of oil, it was something that Werner Lupberger got first hand knowledge of last night as this small transcript from the teams pits to car radio highlights;

Werner: "I've stopped, I'm pulling off…..something went bang."
Engineer (Brian Ireland): "Repeat Werner...repeat."
Werner: "Something went bang. I've pulled off just before Mulsanne...there was no warning."

Brian Ireland studies the telemetry and sees that the gearbox oil temperature is off the clock.

Engineer: "Is it the gearbox, Werner."
Werner: "I think so...I'm pushing the car to the marshals post. Or it could be engine....there was a small fire but...it's out"

Werner in fact pushed the car the entire length of the straight between the Tertre Rouge complex and the corner itself; "While I was doing that I was also looking under the engine cover to see what was going on. But it was so dark down there that I couldn't really see much," said the South African

Back in the pits, and on closer inspection of the telemetry, there seems to have been no indication of the problem. Brian Ireland speculated; "It looks like some of the sensors could have been burnt out because the oil temperature shot up just before Werner pulled off."

As suspected, it was an engine failure and with the fire extinguishant having damaged the clutch sensors it was decided to not run the car in the first portion of the second qualifying session. Ben Collins, who was looking forward to more night running in particular, commented; "It is frustrating not to get any running this evening, but better it happens in qualifying than in the race. The guys from Judd have told us to save miles on the race engine, so Werner will just do a couple of laps later in the second session."

The second A410 of Klaas Zwart / Scott Maxwell and Xavier Pompidou had their niggling clutch problem fixed and then concentrated on getting Scott more comfortable in his car. The 37-year-old from Toronto was experiencing a discomfort in the car, restricting his elbow movements somewhat. The lanky Harri Toivonen also had the problem and shrewdly invested in a pair of elbow pads.

Immediately before the session started, Xavier Pompidou was in a positive frame of mind; "I'm really looking forward to learning more about the car. I just hope that there will not be rain, because my friend who lives in Paris tells me that it is raining there now."

2nd Qualifying - Frustration and Promise for Ascari

Team Ascari will line up 18th and 22nd in the 69th Le Mans 24 Hours on Saturday, after today's final qualifying sessions saw mixed fortunes for the two A410 Judd prototypes.

The team's first chassis of Werner Lupberger/ Ben Collins and Harri Toivonen only did one lap of the classic La Sarthe track after they were forced to install their race engine 24 hours early after yesterday's blow up at Tertre Rouge. For Toivonen it was a necessary and frustrating evil to tour around for a couple of exploratory installation laps; "For sure it is better to have the problems we have had in qualifying than before the race, but it is still annoying as we know we could have potentially got past the 3:40 barrier," said the Finn.

Team boss Ian Dawson echoed those thoughts but was still confident for the race; "When everyone is on the same tyres I am sure that we will be well in amongst the top 15. The engine problem yesterday put us back in terms of race set up on the number 20 car, but we still have the warm up to come for that, although we will only do a few laps once more. But the main priority for this session was for the three guys in the second car to feel comfortable in it, and we achieved that."

Harri Toivonen is expected to undertake warm up duties on Saturday, when the Finn will expect to find a good race balance for the leading QR 4U backed car.

The team's second car saw a marked improvement on their first session time, with Scott Maxwell and then Xavier Pompidou proving their worth, the latter with a series of impressive times in the second session, peaking with a 3:43.663s. "It's getting better every lap I do but I am slightly disappointed because I could have got in to the 3:42s, but I got blocked on my first two laps on the new set of tyres.", said the ebullient Frenchman. "There are a few things we need to look at before the race and tomorrow the race engine will go in, so I am very happy with my new environment here at Ascari."

Team boss Klaas Zwart who did his stint last was more than pleased with his team mate and the number 21 car's performance; " All the guys are doing great and we have two Ascaris at Le Mans; it feels great," said the Dutch team owner. Here he is in action, approaching Arnage......

...and then two views of him taking the tight right hander. It's easy to see why he's enjoying every minute of it.

Friday is a day off as far as track action, but not for the mechanics, of course.....

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

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