US GP: Drivers excited about chances at Indy

Practice for the third annual SAP United States Grand Prix gets underway Sept. 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is just one of the many Formula One drivers looking forward to racing at the...

Practice for the third annual SAP United States Grand Prix gets underway Sept. 26 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya is just one of the many Formula One drivers looking forward to racing at the Brickyard again.

"I am pleased to race at Indianapolis again," Williams-BMW driver Montoya said. "From a technical perspective, the Brickyard is a circuit that has got a lot of rhythm, and so an important key to performing well in Indy is to have a well-balanced car."

The SAP United States Grand Prix on Sept. 29 is round 16 of 17 this season. The season finale will be Oct. 13 in Japan.

Montoya arrived in Indianapolis Thursday after appearing on "Late Night with David Letterman" on Wednesday night.

"It was good," Montoya said. "I know David from before. He is part (race) car owner and everything. So it was good fun."

Montoya, his Williams-BMW teammate, Ralf Schumacher, and West McLaren-Mercedes driver David Coulthard are locked in a three-way race for third place in the World Championship. Montoya has 44 points, Schumacher has 42 and Coulthard 37.

"Some people said that Monza was going to be our last chance for a victory this season," Schumacher said, "but in my opinion our car will also suit the Indy track. After both Juan and I didn't finish in Italy, our performance in the U.S. will be even more carefully scrutinized, and we will be looking for a better result. The long full-throttle sector in the parabolic corner suits our engine, but it will be very difficult to find the right compromise with the winding infield."

The West McLaren-Mercedes team won last year's SAP United States Grand Prix with driver Mika Hakkinen. This year, Kimi Raikkonen has replaced Hakkinen, who has retired, as Coulthard's teammate.

"Indianapolis is among the most historical and prestigious racing venues in the world," Coulthard said. "In my mind, it is up there with Monaco and Spa. I've secured points finishes in both of the previous races, and this is a record I am looking to continue.

"Although it was an incredibly emotional weekend last year, the American fans once again created a fantastic atmosphere, and I hope we can put on a good show for them. There are a couple of clear overtaking opportunities at the track, the primary one being under braking into the first corner, that leads you off the oval."

The chase for third place is just one of the stories at this weekend's Grand Prix.

Five-time World Champion Michael Schumacher will aim to add to his record 10 Grand Prix victories this season and to become the first driver to become a two-time winner of the U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis. He won the inaugural race in 2000.

"I am very happy to be in the United States," he said. "I am a big fan of America, and it is always a pleasure to come here.

"I hope that at Indianapolis we can enjoy the enthusiasm and support which we were shown by the fans in the previous two editions of this race. The setting is really impressive with the packed grandstands, and I always enjoy driving here even if, in my opinion, the track is not particularly demanding. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a famous part of motor racing history."

Michael Schumacher's Ferrari teammate, Rubens Barrichello, virtually has second place in the Drivers Championship locked up, and that means he can aim for the win Sunday rather than drive just for points.

"It's been a good season even though at the beginning of the season I've had a lot of DNFs," Barrichello said. "I'll be looking for a win here more than be conservative and looking for the points."

Should Michael Schumacher and Barrichello score a total of 11 points Sunday, Ferrari will top the record of 199 points scored by McLaren-Honda in the 1988 Constructors Championship.

Barrichello enjoys visiting the United States, and he relishes the challenges of the diverse 13-turn, 2.606-mile (4.192-km) Indy F1 circuit.

"I really love coming to the USA," said Barrichello, who has scored three wins this season. "I think it's a great place to come. I spend so much of my holidays in here and I like the circuit. People could say it's a bit Mickey Mouse in some of the parts, but I think it's quite challenging. It is very difficult to set up the car for the long straights and for the small parts. So I really enjoy it."

Montoya also likes the F1 track layout and the strategic and technical challenges it presents.

"The Speedway is a good competitive circuit, as it is very fast and strategy can come into play in the race outcome," Montoya said. "I think it is probably one of the best circuits for overtaking, having such a long straight, and Turn 1 is an especially good place for passing. The trick is to get fairly close to the car in front of you by the end of the straight before trying to pass.

"The circuit also holds sentimental value for me as when I raced in CART my team was based here. I have good memories from then, as well as, of course, winning the Indy 500. I'm probably going to see all my old friends out there, and we'll be sure to make it as entertaining as possible! It's going to be an interesting weekend for us. No doubt about it."

Michael Schumacher has the best record in the first two editions of the SAP U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis with a win and a second place.

"I am not going to make a prediction about Sunday's Grand Prix," he said, "because a lot will depend on the tire performance. We know that our car is close to perfection on all types of track, and we will definitely be competitive, even though I cannot say to what degree. We will try, along with the fans, to have an enjoyable and interesting weekend."

Villeneuve's view: 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve is back for his third F1 race at the Brickyard.

"It's nice to go to Indianapolis after Europe," said Villeneuve, who finished fourth in the inaugural SAP U.S. Grand Prix in 2000. "It's enjoyable to race here, mostly because of all the American fans. The atmosphere outside the paddock is great.

"The F1 circuit in Indianapolis isn't a bad track, although I feel it's not as good as it could be. If I'd designed it I'd have used both straights on the oval, not just one of them. However, circuit design isn't my job! Sometimes I wonder how a F1 car would behave on the oval itself. First, we'd need different tires than the ones we currently use, and we'd have to change the setup a lot. If you did all that, then I reckon it would be easy to go flat for the entire lap.

"We had a lot of fun the first year that we raced at Indy, in 2000, because no one knew how to set up the cars. It was a circuit that we had never tested or raced at before. Since then, it's been much easier because we can now hone the cars pretty quickly. There's usually some close racing because the race is at the end of the season."

Toyota's challenge: The new Panasonic Toyota Racing F1 team will compete in the SAP U.S. Grand Prix for the first time.

"It's great to be going to Indianapolis because it is such a famous track and has such a great history," Toyota driver Mika Salo said. "But I think this will be a difficult weekend for us because it is not the kind of track that traditionally suits our car. And, while our rivals are fine-tuning their cars on Friday, we will still be finding a baseline from which to work because we have never been there. After we nearly scored points at Monza last time out, it would be very satisfying to get a good result here.

"I've only raced at the Brickyard once before, in 2000, and that was the first year that I drove there. From a driver's perspective, it's not a great track because the infield section is too slow, with three of the corners being in first gear. On the other hand, though, we still manage to reach 330 kph by the end of the straight, which is very quick and provides us with a good overtaking opportunity. There is always a great atmosphere at Indy, due to the full-to-capacity grandstands on the pit straight. I hope the fans enjoy the show."

Jaguar team motivated: Eddie Irvine's third place in the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 15 has motivated the entire team.

"Motivation means everything for people, for human beings," said team director Niki Lauda. "The whole team worked hard the whole year, and no results were achieved. So really, this was certainly depressing. But in Monza, with a little bit of luck, we finished third. So from this point of view, motivation is highest."

Historic event: DHL Jordan-Honda driver Giancarlo Fisichella enjoys the historic surroundings of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"Indianapolis is a good circuit and quite different from our usual race locations," he said. "I am happy and very proud to race in such a historical place because Indianapolis is one of the most important race venues in the world together with Le Mans, Monza and Monte Carlo. I'm looking forward to racing here again and, hopefully, to score some points."

Arrows stays home: The Orange Arrows-Cosworth team did not make the trip to Indianapolis for the SAP United States Grand Prix.

Frentzen replaces Massa: Heinz-Harald Frentzen will replace Felipe Massa in this weekend's SAP United States Grand Prix. Officials decided that Massa had caused an accident in the Italian Grand Prix and penalized him 10 grid positions for this weekend's Grand Prix.

The Sauber-Petronas team, anxious to preserve its fifth place in the Constructors Championship, avoided the penalty by bringing in Frentzen to take over for Massa. Frentzen, who made his F1 debut with Sauber in 1994, also has signed to drive for the team next season.

"I am really happy about this chance to get racing experience again with Sauber-Petronas, prior to my full season in 2003," Frentzen said. "I am, of course, familiar with Indianapolis after racing there in the previous two Grands Prix. This will give me a valuable chance to re-establish old relationships within the team and to forge new ones."

Technical challenges: The combination of the long, high-speed straight and the twisting infield section of the Indy F1 track create a unique challenge for the drivers, cars and engineers.

Sam Michael, chief operations engineer of the Williams-BMW team, said: "Indianapolis is completely different to any of the other circuits on the Formula One calendar. It has the longest straight, with up to 23 seconds on full throttle, followed by tight and twisty corners, none of them high speed at all. Part of the Formula One circuit uses two corners from the oval track, but they are taken at full throttle, so are considered as part of the straight."

"The setup of the car needs to be geared toward good traction for the slow-speed exits and good braking stability. From a tire point of view, the Michelin compounds will be competitive. We had strong tires at Monza, and we were disappointed not to capitalize on the advantage they gave us there due to the technical problems we had with our own package."

"The circuit layout demands maximum downforce for the infield and minimum drag for the straight. We are sure to see a variety of different wing levels tried throughout the weekend. The pit-stop strategy should be interesting because there are plenty of overtaking opportunities."

Mario Theissen, BMW motorsport director, said: "On the oval part of the Indianapolis circuit, the engines run full throttle for 23 seconds, this represents the longest full-load section of all Formula One circuits. In contrast, there is the narrow infield, which reduces the full throttle percentage of a lap to just over 50 percent."

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About this article
Series Formula 1
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Ferrari , Mercedes , Sauber , McLaren , Williams , Toyota Racing , Jordan