Irvine smash sets Jaguar back

JAGUAR's early advantage as the first F1 team to unveil its new 2001 challenger encountered an unwelcome setback yesterday when its number one driver Eddie Irvine seriously damaged the new car in a high speed smash.

Only eight days after the new Jaguar R2 was unveiled on an upbeat note at the car company's technical center, Irvine slammed off the road at around 140mph at the Valencia circuit in Spain, wrecking the front end against the protective tire barrier after skating across the trackside gravel trap.

"The car suffered a stuck throttle, which is what caused the accident," said Jaguar spokesman James Thomas last night.

"Eddie banged an arm in the impact, but he's fine and hasn't suffered any injury. As yet we're not certain how badly damaged the car is until Steve Nichols (Jaguar's technical director) has a chance to look at it back at the factory."

The team was last night returning the damaged Jaguar R2 to its base at Milton Keynes while Irvine continued the Michelin tire test program at Valencia driving the interim Jaguar R1B test car.

If possible, the Jaguar R2 will be repaired in time for a test at Silverstone next Monday, but if it requires a new monocoque (chassis) then the team's finely timed preparation for the first race of the season, the Australian grand prix on 4 March.

The team will now face considerable pressure repairing the car while at the same time concentrating on completing the second and third R2 chassis in order to ensure that three new cars are ready for the Melbourne race.

Driving the Jaguar R1B, Irvine eventually set a best time of 1min 15.65sec at Valencia yesterday, some 1.8sec slower than Mika Hakkinen in the comparable McLaren-Mercedes development car running on Bridgestone tires.

Even allowing for the accident, this suggests that, as expected, Jaguar tire supplier Michelin still has some way to go before it can challenge formula one's established tire supplier.

Nevertheless, with teams concentrating on different technical programs and running with differing fuel loads - and therefore car weight - reaching accurate conclusions about winter testing is regarded as formula one's equivalent of reading the tea leaves.

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