Sun, Jul 03, 2005 - Page 24 News List

Kimi Raikkonen endures setback before French GP

AP , MAGNY COURS, FRANCE

All the cars were back on the track in practice Friday for the French Grand Prix.

However, one of the top drivers didn't last long.

Kimi Raikkonen of McLaren-Mercedes, second in the season standings, was forced out of afternoon practice on the first lap when his engine caught fire. He will be penalized in Sunday's race for the engine change.

Two weeks after 14 cars boycotted the United States Grand Prix over concerns about tire safety, things were normal in two practice sessions on Friday.

Pedro de la Rosa of McLaren-Mercedes, one of the four practice drivers allowed to run in Friday sessions, led both sessions. In the morning, he had a time of 1 minute, 14.778 seconds on the 4.4km Magny Cours circuit. In the afternoon he clocked 1:14.460.

There are two more practices on Saturday followed by qualifying. Sunday's race is 70 laps.

Some of the 14 drivers who boycotted the US race turned impressive times. This time, all seven teams that use Michelin tires, and refused to race in Indianapolis, were on the track.

FIA, the sports' governing body, found the seven teams guilty of wrongfully refusing to race at Indy. It has delayed announcing sanctions until September.

In the morning, Fernando Alonso, who is leading the drivers' standings, was second in 1:15.183 with Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella third in 1:15.255. In the afternoon they were fourth and fifth, respectively.

Alonso has 59 points in the seasons standings, followed by Raikkonen with 37 and Michael Schumacher with 34.

"We had a good balance on the car right from the start of the day and we didn't change the setup at all," Alonso said. "That's always a good way to start on Friday because it means that you can use your laps to test the tires and work on other things."

Meanwhile, Raikkonen had more problems.

He won three of the four races before withdrawing from the US GP. He also was leading two other races before his car broke down, which included being ahead on the final lap at the European Grand Prix.

This time it was engine failure in practice.

The team said it would change the engine, which means Raikkonen will be penalized 10 spots from his Saturday qualifying position.

"That is obviously going to affect my weekend as bit," Raikkonen said. "I will have to move 10 places down the starting grid which will make things more challenging."

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