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Irvine tops testing at Magny-Cours

EDDIE IRVINE emerged fastest from three days of testing last week at Magny-Cours - where most of F1 teams were gathered in preparation for the forthcoming French Grand Prix. Irvine's best lap of the track was set on the final day of the test after the Ulsterman had completed 123 laps over two days. Eddie stopped the clocks at 1m15.876s which was considerably faster than everyone else, suggesting that Irvine was the only one to really go for times.

Michael Schumacher was present on all three days of the test and completed 150 laps of the track but his best was only a 1m16.970s. The German did a lot of running with the latest Ferrari V10 engine - which was used in qualifying in Canada - but it will be some time before this will be reliable enough to be used in races.

The second fastest time of the test went to David Coulthard's McLaren. The team was in action for only two and half days but in that time the Scotsman was able to complete nearly 200 laps with a best of 1m16.953s. Mika Hakkinen did fewer miles (145 laps) and was two-tenths slower.

Benetton's Alexander Wurz ended up fifth fastest with a best of 1m17.492s after 160 laps although his progress was slowed by an engine failure on the final day. It was a similar story for Giancarlo Fisichella who covered 130 laps with a best of 1m17.987s, while the team's test driver Laurent Redon was also running on the first day, completing 35 laps on old tires before handing over to Fisichella.

Williams ran two cars on all three days of testing with some new suspension modifications to try. These made the cars very sensitive and Ralf Schumacher had no fewer than three spins on the first day. In the end he completed a total of 100 laps with a best of 1m17.722s, while his team-mate Alex Zanardi did 142 laps with a best of 1m18.790s - although he did not try going for any really fast laps.

Stewart Grand Prix was also busy with Rubens Barrichello doing two days before handing the single car over to Johnny╩Herbert. Johnny set the faster time after 68 laps with a best of 1m17.574s, while Rubens had to make do with a 1m17.994s after 126 laps.

British American Racing began testing with Ricardo Zonta and Patrick Lemarie, although the Frenchman soon handed over to Jacques Villeneuve. It was the French-Canadian who ended up with the fastest time of the three drivers after 86 laps with a 1m18.058s. Zonta did 103 laps but had to start his program all over again after the team discovered that the data from the first two days was incorrect. Lemarie did 13 laps.

Jordan ran Damon Hill only for two days of testing - while Heinz-Harald Frentzen recovered from his big crash in Canada. Damon completed 108 laps with a best of 1m18.118s.

The Prost team had a miserable test with a series of transmission problems and other mishaps. Jarno Trulli missed the entire first day because of transmission trouble and then had to stop after 13 laps because of gearbox trouble. He then damaged his car in a spin on the third day and had to wait until Olivier Panis had finished his program before he was able to do another 24 laps. His best lap was a 1m18.307s while Panis - who completed 138 laps despite gearbox trouble - could do no better than 1m18.575s.

Sauber ran on all three days of the test - although there was only one car on the first day for Pedro Diniz. He drove on all three days and completed 165 laps with a best of 1m18.626s while Jean Alesi began testing on the second day only to suffer a transmission problem. By the end of the test the Frenchman had done only 60 laps with a best of 1m18.619s.

The Minardi team did not make the trip to France, going instead to the Automotive Safety Center (ASC) at Vairano, near Pavia. This should not be confused with the Circuito Ricardo Paletti at Varano. The ASC facility is an industry test circuit which includes a straight one and a quarter miles long. Minardi used this for aerodynamic mapping work with driver Gaston╩Mazzacane, covering 160 miles.

Arrows did not test but will do some shakedown runs at the Santa Pod dragstrip in England this week.

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