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Engine problems cost solid qualifiers

© St. Petersburg Times
published March 17, 2002

SEBRING -- David Brabham and Jan Magnussen seem to have an unrelenting demon at work against them at Sebring.

Their Panoz LMP 01 prototype, which qualified fourth, developed engine trouble soon after the two-hour mark of the 12 Hours of Sebring, leaving the longtime teammates high and dry Saturday for the third straight year.

"Very disappointing," Brabham said after watching his crew push the car behind the wall. "The car was very strong early on, and we were able to make some advances on the Audis. But we just can't seem to find any luck here, and I'd love to know what to do to make that change."

LIGHT 'EM UP: Because four hours of the race are run in darkness each year, many Sebring fans have longed for a definitive way to identify the leading cars in the four classes. So the American Le Mans Series introduced a light system that identified the top three spots in each class with a series of colored lights (red for LMP 900 prototypes, blue for LMP675, green for GTS and yellow for GT cars) mounted to the cars' sides ahead of the rear wheels.

Cars leading their class were identified by three lights, second place by two lights and third by one. HEAT FACTOR: With afternoon temperatures climbing into the mid 90s, heat quickly became a major worry for many drivers and teams. Engines strained as radiators neared the boiling point, and tires faltered as track temperatures reached 120 degrees by afternoon. The race was slowed to full-course caution for 25 minutes so officials could repair a section of the track that had begun to separate and crumble under the broiling heat.

"The heat is always something you have to prepare yourself for here, but today it seemed a little worse than the past few years," said Franz Konrad, driver of the No. 26 Saleen GTS entry. John Graham, whose Panoz LMP-07 was troubled by airjack lines thought to be damaged by excessive heat, was particularly distressed by the soaring temperatures in the cockpit of his car.

"The pedals are so hot you can't keep your feet on them," Graham said.

CADILLAC DEBUT: Team Cadillac's introduction of its newly redesigned LMP 900 prototypes produced mixed results.

Despite running in the top 10 in the early hours, the machine of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelini and Cristophe Tinseau suffered electrical problems. Meanwhile, the second entry driven by Eric Berhand, Emmanuel Collard and J.J. Lehto was relegated to a lengthy stop behind the wall early to repair a starter.

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