Thursday April 26th, 2001
By Patrick Vignal
Michele Alboreto's fatal crash while testing an Audi has baffled the German car manufacturer. Audi sports chief Wolfgang Ullrich called Wednesday's accident on the recently-built Lausitzring an "incomprehensible tragedy".
Weather conditions were ideal when the 44-year-old Italian lost control of his Audi R8 during the last day of a three-day testing session for the Le Mans 24-hour race.
"We will do everything in our power to find the reason for this accident but right now our thoughts and condolences are with Michele's wife, Nadia, his two daughters and his whole family," Ullrich said.
The ex-Formula One driver was at the wheel on a straight section when his car went off the track, hit a fence and flipped over.
"Some 400 metres from the south bend his car went off to the right and left the track for reasons as yet unknown," local police spokesman Berndt Fleischer was quoted as saying in Thursday's Bild newspaper. "His car hit a metal fence and flew in the air for some 100 metres. He was killed instantly. The car was destroyed."
Local police and state prosecutors were investigating the cause of the crash and asked for the car to be left on the track, one of the most modern circuits in Europe and situated some 145 km south of Berlin. Audi said the car involved in the accident had already completed thousands of kilometres on many circuits in preparation for the 2001 season without any problems.
An engineer and an expert from Audi were sent to the Lausitzring to assist the investigators.
"I regret that we have nothing to add to our statement from Wednesday night," said Audi spokesman Rainer Nistel. "We have no new fact on the cause of the accident."
Lausitzring security adviser Klaus Steinmetz was quoted as saying a tyre burst might have caused the crash.
"I don't want to go any faster than the investigation but all the known details suggest that," Steinmetz was quoted as saying by daily Tagesspiegel in an interview to be published on Friday.
Steinmetz told the newspaper that the left-rear tyre might have exploded, which would explain why the car suddenly went off to the right. The adviser, who did not witness the crash, added that from what he knew, he thought neither the driver nor the track were responsible for the accident.
Lausitzring manager Hans-Joerg Fischer said ambulances stationed at the track had taken two minutes to reach the scene of the accident. A helicopter arrived three minutes later but the doctors said they could do nothing to save the driver, he added. Fischer said the accident had nothing to do with the track.
"It could have happened on any circuit," he said, adding the section of the track where the accident occurred would be named after Alboreto in a tribute to the late driver.
The Lausitzring, a new, state-of-the-art facility costing 310 million marks ($142.3 million), was inaugurated last August and described as the safest circuit in the world. It is scheduled to host a round of the U.S. CART series on September 15.
Alboreto had five Grand Prix successes in the 1980s and was a member of the Porsche team which won the 1997 Le Mans and the Audi team which came third there last year. The Italian competed in 194 Formula One races from 1981 to 1994 and achieved three of his victories for Ferrari.
"Alboreto was a great and important driver in Ferrari's history," said Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo, who paid tribute to the driver's "irrepressible passion" for motor racing.
"He was intelligent and always aware of the technical issues in developing cars," Montezemolo said in a statement on Wednesday. "His death pains me deeply."
Alboreto moved to sportscar racing after bowing out of Formula One in 1994.
He joined Audi in 1999 and twice took part in the Le Mans classic for the German manufacturer. He also entered races in the American Le Mans Series (ALMS).
His final victory came last March in a 12-hour race in Sebring, Florida, in which he teamed up with fellow Italian Rinaldo Capello and Frenchman Laurent Aiello.