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McLaren hunting gremlins

THE West McLaren Mercedes team did not do any major testing last week, giving Ilmor and Mercedes-Benz engineers the chance to try to pin down the problem which has been causing the team's V10 engines to blow up at recent races. The engine failures have robbed the team of several possible victories this year - most embarrassingly at the Nurburgring where the cars were running 1-2 with the Mercedes top management watching when they broke down.

The team did do some low-key aerodynamic validation testing on the runway at the Lurcy-Levis facility near Magny-Cours, with British racer Oliver Gavin at the wheel.

There was plenty of action at nearby Magny-Cours with seven teams in action over a three day period, either preparing for the Japanese GP or doing development work for the 1998 cars. Teams need to get as much development running done as possible as they are forbidden to test between the end of the season (October 26) until December 1. There is likely to be intensive testing in December with three major tests scheduled at Estoril and Barcelona before Christmas.

Fastest of the test was Ralf Schumacher in his Jordan-Peugeot, who completed 85 laps over two days with a best time of 1m14.47s on the final day, just beating the pole position time set by his brother Michael at Magny-Cours in June. Ralf worked on new suspension geometry and differential development. The Jordan team ran test driver Ricardo Zonta on the first day of the test in the 1998-spec Jordan, the new Formula 3000 Champion completing 69 laps before spinning off, with a best lap of 1m22.79s.

Second quickest was Benetton's new signing Alexander Wurz, who took part in all three days of the test, notching up 155 laps of the track with a best time of 1m24.70s. Jean Alesi did the first two days of the test, completing 78 laps with a best of 1m15.17s.

Setting the pace on the first three days of the test was Prost Grand Prix's Olivier Panis, who was busy testing a new specification Mugen Honda engine which will be run by the team at Suzuka, while also continuing work on the 1998 gearbox and on Bridgestone's grooved tires. In total Olivier completed 100 laps with a best time - set on the second day of the test - of 1m14.80s.

Johnny Herbert ran two days for Sauber, completing 135 laps with a best of 1m16.24s. He then handed over to GianniÊMorbidelli who completed 90 laps to record his time of 1m16.98s.

Williams ran Jacques Villeneuve for the first two days, running parts for the new FW20 and trying out different settings for the Japanese GP. Things did not go according to plan with some reliability problems, Jacques only able to complete 38 laps in total, with a best lap of 1m16.60s. Heinz-Harald Frentzen took over on the final day of the test and completed 100 laps with a best of 1m16.37s. The team also ran its test driver Jean-Christophe Boullion for all three days in the 1998-spec car doing grooved tire development work for Goodyear. The Frenchman completing 122 laps with a best time of 1m20.29s.

Arrows was also at the test with Pedro Diniz running a 1997 car on Tuesday, setting a best lap of 1m16.74s. He then switched over to a 1998-spec narrow-track version of the car, which has been developed by Arrows engineers Jean-Paul Gousset and Mike Coughlan. Pedro completed a total of 100 laps over the three days.

Elsewhere Rubens Barrichello ran for a day at Silverstone, completing 26 laps with yet another version of the Ford V10 engine. This will not be raced in Japan but may be seen at Jerez.

Ferrari stayed in Italy with Eddie Irvine running at Mugello on Tuesday, completing 69 laps as he prepared for the Japanese GP. The team then moved to Fiorano where Eddie ran another 52 laps on the Wednesday doing development work for 1998. Michael Schumacher took over the testing on Thursday, completing 100 laps of the track and then did the shakedown runs of the three lightweight chassis being sent to Japan on Friday morning.

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