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Morgans at LeMans

posted Nov 15, 2010, 4:17 PM by L.D. McLaughlin Jr.
Tony McLaughlin, May 1, 2004
The Morgan Works Team finished a gruelling day at Le Mans on Sunday with mixed fortunes. Adam Sharpe and Neil Cunningham completed the required 10 laps to qualify, but a dramatic series of events in the afternoon session prevented third driver Keith Ahlers from making the starting grid in June – despite the superhuman efforts of the pit crew. Following a faultless run in the 12 Hour race at Sebring just a few weeks ago, the Morgan Works Team arrived at Le Mans for the vital pre-race test in confident mood. The objectives were to qualify drivers Adam Sharpe, Neil Cunningham and Keith Ahlers by completing the required 10 laps each, and then to carry out some development work. The full technical team, including specialists from Yokohama, KW Suspension and Magnetti Marelli data management were in attendance to assist with this plan. During the morning session, all went smoothly and on plan. Neil Cunningham handled the shake down laps perfectly, and the Aero 8 LM GT steadily improved to a very satisfactory lap time of 4.27. The outlook was good for an afternoon best lap time on target around 4.18. Adam Sharpe took over around 11.30, and put in 8 laps at a steady 4.35 pace as he learned the circuit – a superb performance from the 19 year old - the youngest driver of the 150 drivers at Le Mans in 2004. As the lunch break approached, the team prepared for the planned change of differential that would commence the afternoon’s development programme. Keith Ahlers was ready to complete all or most of his 10 laps before the break. However, the best laid plans are notoriously subject to the vagaries of motorsport, and the afternoon turned out to be a very different experience for the Works Team. Just before the driver change, Adam came in with a steering problem, which turned out to be a blown seal on the rack. The Team decided to end the session there and change both steering rack and differential over lunch. Adam still had 2 more laps to complete to make the required 10. The work went smoothly, and Adam was back out as soon as the circuit re-opened. 15 minutes later he was in for the change over to Keith. But on his very first lap, Keith broke down near Mulsanne with reported transmission failure. First indications were that the clutch had gone, which would have meant the game was over without Keith qualifying. The Team towed the car back in, and quickly found that the fault was actually a broken drive shaft, which was rapidly repaired. Keith was soon back out to big sighs of relief. Then, after just one more flying lap, Keith suffered a bad crash going into the Porsche Curves, and on the circuit monitors the car looked a complete write off. The Pit Marshalls actually signed the session closed for Morgan. But once again, the team dragged the stricken car back in, and worked frantically to repair serious damage to front and rear wings. The tow truck had sheared off the rear spoiler wing. Dispensation to run without it was urgently sought, as well as permission to re-open the test session. Time was fast running out, and Keith still only had 4 laps on the board. To cheers from the crew, the crowd and even the marshalls, the car went out again, held together with large amounts of tape and many prayers. But still the fates had not finished with Morgan Works. Another couple of laps in, Keith broke down again, this time with a broken front driver side wishbone - probably a consequential result of the early crash. Once again it looked like it was all over. But the Morgan Works Team is famous for simply refusing to give up and now the large crowd was treated to a stunning demonstration of just how much spirit it has. The car was towed back in, and the broken wishbone was welded up with the much-appreciated help of another team in the paddock. With just 9 minutes of the session left, the car was ready to roll again. The team’s calculations had Keith requiring two more laps. In a heart-stopping development just as the car rolled out of the garage, the safety officials stopped the car, requiring some additional work to make the battered car safe. The clock was ticking away. Finally, the Aero 8 roared off to more cheers, and Keith Ahlers valiantly tried to complete the necessary laps. In the end, though, time and luck had run out, and it was simply not possible to complete the last lap before the chequered flag ended the session, the day, and Keith’s hopes for a Le Mans drive in 2004. The search must now commence for a driver who has pre-qualified by racing at Le Mans in the past. Team Manager David Dowse comments: “That was an incredible effort from the team, and we are extremely disappointed that we couldn’t get Keith qualified. On the upside, though, the drivers reported that the car was handling beautifully during the morning session, and we are completely confident that we can run at a pace that will put us somewhere in the centre of the class. Certainly our best time today is no indication of what we can achieve - we simply did not have the opportunity to open her up today."“