Tuesday May 1st, 2001
German car manufacturer Audi has decided to enter next month's Le Mans race after investigators concluded a burst tyre caused Michele Alboreto's fatal crash during testing for the 24-hour classic.
Audi will take part in Sunday's pre-qualifying session for this year's event on June 16-17 after receiving evidence that its R8 car was not to blame for Alboreto's accident last week in Germany, Audi sports chief Wolfgang Ullrich said on Tuesday.
"I am absolutely sure that Michele, whose work helped us make the Audi R8 such a successful sports car, would have agreed with this," Ullrich said.
The 44-year-old former Formula One driver from Italy was killed last Wednesday after his Audi R8 went out of control during a testing session on the Lausitzring track, some 145 kilometres south of Berlin. Alboreto was at the wheel on a straight section when his car suddenly went off the track, hit a fence and flipped over. He was killed instantly.
"Experts from the independent investigating group Dekra, investigating on behalf of the public prosecutor's office in Cottbus, and Audi specialists unanimously came to the opinion that the accident was caused by a punctured tyre," Audi said in a statement.
"All the investigations carried out so far prove that the accident was caused by external circumstances and not by any technical failure of the car," the statement added.
The Dekra experts told prosecutors that at first a sharp object had caused slight damage to the left rear tyre. This led to a gradual loss of pressure and the tyre exploded while Alboreto was driving at an estimated speed of 320 km/h, they added.
Audi said the car involved in the accident had already completed thousands of kilometres on many circuits without any problems in preparation for the 2001 season. Lausitzring manager Hans-Joerg Fischer said the accident had nothing to do with the track, a brand new facility costing 310 million marks ($142.3 million). It was inaugurated in August last year and presented as the safest circuit in the world.
Alboreto won five Grands Prix in the 1980s and was a member of the Porsche team which won the 1997 Le Mans and the Audi team which finished third there last year. The Italian driver competed in 194 Formula One races from 1981 to 1994 and achieved three of his five Grand Prix wins for Ferrari.
Alboreto moved to sportscar racing after bowing out of Formula One in 1994, joining Audi in 1999.