US GP: Pre-race notebook

Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher is expecting a fierce battle as he tries to protect his World Championship lead in the United States Grand Prix on Sept. 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "We are geared up for Indianapolis," he said. "A...

Ferrari driver Michael Schumacher is expecting a fierce battle as he tries to protect his World Championship lead in the United States Grand Prix on Sept. 28 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"We are geared up for Indianapolis," he said. "A lot of people say that it is a track that is more adapted to BMW Williams, but we can't say that we agree. The same thing was said about (the Italian Grand Prix at) Monza but, after a tough fight, we won out."

None of the three championship contenders can afford to make the smallest mistake this weekend. Schumacher leads with 82 points while Juan Pablo Montoya has 79, and Kimi Raikkonen has 75.

"Every tiny error can have serious consequences," Schumacher said. "Whoever is able to exploit the resources during the weekend will come out on top. The competition is so tight that crossing the line first could depend on each day's results. It is a great challenge that we take on without fear, and the other teams will do the same.

"The success (of our victory) at Monza has motivated us even more, but we know we are in a battle and we will not make the mistake of resting on or laurels. We are very well prepared and will show our fighting spirit again at Indianapolis."

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Montoya's home race: Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya calls the United States. Grand Prix a home race.

"I have some great memories from The Brickyard," he said. "First and foremost, my Indy 500 victory back in 2000 was very important to my career, and then, of course, from my years in the CART series thereafter, particularly as my team at the time was based at Indianapolis.

"The atmosphere is simply fantastic, especially in the grandstands around the oval section, which are usually packed with people waving flags and playing music. I consider Indy to be a home race for me, so I feel I must give my supporters a good race, and hopefully there will be many Colombians in the stands giving me support."

Montoya is confident that his Williams-BMW will be competitive this weekend.

"Our car can definitely do well at the Speedway as the power of the BMW engine suits the long straight," he said, "so I am anticipating a close fight with our immediate rivals. We have two main targets to focus on now: The team needs to secure the Constructors Championship, and I have to close the gap to Michael in the Drivers standings and, if possible, get ahead of him. We need to keep the ball rolling and make the most out of this race because Suzuka (Japan) is a circuit that really suits Michael's driving style."

Williams-BMW leads the Constructors Championship with 141 points followed by Ferrari with 137 and McLaren-Mercedes with 120.

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Raikkonen flat out: West McLaren-Mercedes driver Kimi Raikkonen will be driving flat out this weekend to try to close the points gap on Michael Schumacher and Juan Pablo Montoya.

"Monza is not the track where we are the strongest," Raikkonen said of the recent Italian Grand Prix in which he finished fourth, "and so I did the best I could do, and our performance was not too bad considering. I am now looking forward to the U.S. Grand Prix, where the characteristics of the MP4-17D will be more suited to the track than Monza, and we should perform better there. I need to get a good result as we are now at such a crucial stage of the championship, and I will be driving flat out to try and achieve this."

Raikkonen still has not given up on winning the title. "It is not finished," he said. "We will wait until the end of the season. You never know what happens in the next two races. It is more difficult now than it was before, but we can do it. We will do our best and not give up."

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Prestigious race: Spain's Fernando Alonso, who earlier this season became the youngest ever F1 winner when he captured the Hungarian Grand Prix at the age of 22 years and 26 days, said the United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a race everybody wants to win.

"This is a very special race," Alonso said. "During the year, there are some big races that everybody wants to do well at: places like Monaco and Spa. There are three or four Grands Prix that stand out and really have a prestigious name. Indianapolis is definitely among them."

Alonso's Mild Seven Renault teammate, Jarno Trulli, agrees. "We have just visited Monza, which is one of the temples of motor racing," Trulli said, "and Indianapolis is another circuit which holds that special status."

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Villeneuve fights for points: After scoring a sixth place in the Italian Grand Prix on Sept. 14 at Monza, 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner Jacques Villeneuve will fight for more points this weekend. Villeneuve has only finished in the points twice so far this season in his Lucky Strike BAR-Honda.

"All year we have concentrated on race setup, but were not able to show our hard work because the car often had mechanical failures and did not finish races," he said. "In Monza, all the hard work finally paid off. It will be more difficult to achieve points at the remaining two tracks than it was in Monza.

"A lot will depend on the tire war. Indy is very twisty on the infield, and there is a lot of braking during directional change. On these parts of the circuit, heavier engines will be penalized more than in Monza. This is also the case for Suzuka (Japan), so they will be two difficult races for us.

"Having said that, we will continue to work hard and hope to be in a position to fight for some points. There is heavy braking at the end of the main straight at Indy, which offers a good overtaking opportunity. It's nice to go to Indy after Europe, and this season it will be even more exciting because of the close race for the championship."

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Schumacher's vacation: Michael Schumacher and his wife, Corinna, planned to have a few days of vacation in the United States before the Grand Prix.

"We always enjoy our stay here," he said. "We both love nature, and in the United States there is a lot to see. We will spend a couple of days in complete peace before getting to Indianapolis."

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Toyota aims for points: The Panasonic Toyota Racing team is aiming for points this weekend.

"Our Toyota colleagues threw down the gauntlet by scoring a one-two in the Indy 500 event at the first attempt earlier this year," said team principal Ove Andersson, "and although we are not yet in a position to fight for victory in Indianapolis this weekend, we should again be looking for a top ten position in qualifying and from there aim for points."

Cristiano da Matta, the 2002 CART champion, is looking forward to racing in the U.S. again. "I'm very excited about the U.S. Grand Prix, as I haven't raced in the States since my CART days," da Matta said. "I have actually never driven at the Indianapolis speedway. Of course, I have seen it many times on the television, but my race debut will be on Friday morning.

"I don't think it will be too difficult to learn the F1 track, because there is just the long straight and a combination of slow-speed corners. On paper, it looks like it will be more of a challenge to set the car up to perform well along the straight, as well as through the slower infield section. Whatever happens, I am sure it will be a highly enjoyable weekend."

Da Matta's teammate, Olivier Panis, will compete in his third F1 race at the Brickyard.

"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most famous motorsport venues in the world," Panis said, "and this gives it a very special ambience during the race weekend. The track itself requires a careful compromise of downforce levels to enable us to be quick enough along the very long pit straight, while being competitive through the twistier and slower infield section."

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Andretti thinks Indy is perfect for USGP: Mario Andretti, the only American to win the Indianapolis 500 and Formula One World Championship, is a strong supporter of the United States Grand Prix taking place at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

"To me, it's a total positive," Andretti said. "I just love the idea that Indianapolis could host the only Formula One race in this country. To be honest with you, it's perfect. It's a perfect scenario. Indianapolis represents the Mecca of open-wheel racing, it always has. And to have Formula One there I think just fits.

"And quite honestly, I don't think that any other venue in this day and age would really work for Formula One in the United States. I think it found a perfect home."

Andretti won the 1969 Indianapolis 500 and the 1978 Formula One World Championship.

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From New York to Indianapolis: Mark Webber, who drives for the Ford-owned Jaguar Racing team, planned to spend time in New York City before heading to Indianapolis.

"The circuit has so much history that it usually guarantees an amazing atmosphere on race day and looks particularly impressive as you blast down the main straight towards the first corner," he said of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. "Before the race weekend, I will be spending some time in New York with team and sponsor activities and then heading south for what is Ford Motor Company's home race."

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Tricky setup: The combination of the long straight and the twisting infield section of the 13-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway's F1 circuit makes it difficult to set up the car for the optimum lap time.

"Indy has good memories for me," said Sauber-Petronas driver Nick Heidfeld. "One of the best Formula One races I ever drove was there in 2001 when I lost first, second and seventh gears but still finished in the points in sixth place.

"From a setup point of view, Indianapolis is a tricky circuit. If you lean off the wing, it then makes the infield challenging because that's so tight and demands plenty of downforce. You can lose 20 km/h (12 mph) on the straight depending on what wing settings you use, so you can see why the way you set the car up is so important.

"A thrilling thing is that you see all the spectators in those huge grandstands down the main straight. You just don't see things on that scale in Europe.

"The Sauber-Petronas C22 has been getting better with all the modifications the team has been introducing, so I am hoping for a good race."

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Third driver for Jordan: Newly crowned FIA International Formula 3000 champion Björn Wirdheim will drive a third car for the Jordan-Ford team in the two-hour test session Friday morning Sept. 26, which is the opening day of practice for the United States Grand Prix.

Jordan-Ford, Mild Seven Renault, Jaguar Racing and European Minardi-Cosworth are allowed to take part in the two-hour session because they have agreed to limit their private testing during the rest of the season. The four teams are permitted to run extra cars during the session.

"I'm delighted to give Björn this opportunity," team principal Eddie Jordan said. "He did a good job for us testing in Monza earlier this month, and it's great to see top talent from the junior motorsport series proving themselves in Formula One.

"The last Swedish F1 driver, Stefan Johansson, was my teammate many years ago, and I've always had links with Sweden, which is why I'm particularly pleased that we are able to work with Björn at this event."

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Renault promotes Montagny: Frenchman Franck Montagny, 25, will replace Allan McNish as the third test/reserve driver at Mild Seven Renault in 2004. The team has been impressed with Montagny's testing work this season.

Montagny has spent the 2003 season competing in the World Series by Nissan where he has won eight times in 12 starts. He also has worked as a test driver for Renault this year.

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More celebrities added to Indy Shop Tour: Formula One Medical Director Professor Sid Watkins, M.D., and Speed Channel Formula One announcer Rick DeBruhl will join former F1 and IRL IndyCar Series driver Eddie Cheever as guest speakers in the CARA Charities' "Indy Shop Tour," a special CARA Charities racing event Sept. 26.

Open-wheel racing fans will have a unique opportunity during Indianapolis' U.S. Grand Prix Week to visit the headquarters of two of the IndyCar Series' top teams - Pennzoil Panther Racing and Target Chip Ganassi Racing. The two racing operations will open their shops to a selected group of racing enthusiasts for a special tour followed by presentations, cocktails and dinner as part of the "Indy Shop Tour."

The popular event, hosted by ABC-TV and ESPN-TV's Bob Jenkins, will begin at 4 p.m. (EST) at the famed Columbia Club on Monument Circle in downtown Indianapolis. Private buses will transport the guests to the racing shops with special tours and question-and-answer periods. The guests will return to the Columbia Club for a cocktail party, buffet dinner and presentations by Cheever, Watkins and DeBruhl.

Tickets for the special "Open Wheel Shop Tour" are on sale at $150 per ticket and include the custom coach transportation, the shop tours, the cocktail party and dinner and the special racing presentation. Proceeds benefit CARA Charities. Call CARA Charities at (317) 299-2277 or e-mail at Carachar@aol.com for reservations.

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Red Bull program driver finishes second: American Joel Nelson, a member of the inaugural Red Bull Driver Search program, finished second in the European F3000 series event last weekend at Brno, Czech Republic.

Nelson started eighth in the Red Bull Junior Team entry but finished five seconds behind winner Fabrizio Del Monte. It was the second runner-up finish this season for Nelson, who is fifth in the series points.

The Red Bull Driver Search program, headed by 1985 Indianapolis 500 winner Danny Sullivan, uses a series of on-track tests and off-track evaluation to place promising American drivers with European racing teams in hopes to groom them for a future seat in Formula One.

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Pit walkabout: Race day ticket holders have the rare opportunity to get an up-close look at the Formula One pits during a free pit walkabout Thursday, Sept. 25.

The walkabout takes place from 8 a.m.-noon (EST, Indy time), starting a full weekend of activities at the track. This is one of the very few fan walkabouts available on the 16-event, global F1 schedule in 2003.

A walkabout ticket, which is included with the purchase of a USGP race day ticket purchased from the Speedway, is required to participate in the walkabout.

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Saturday schedule changes: Minor changes have been made to the Formula One schedule for the United States Grand Prix on Saturday, Sept. 27 to better accommodate worldwide television viewers.

Formula One free practice sessions will take place from 8-8:45 a.m. and 9:15-10 a.m. Saturday, one hour earlier than previously scheduled. The qualifying warm-up will take place from 12:30-12:45 p.m., with the second, single-lap qualifying session from 1-2 p.m., both sessions one hour earlier than previously scheduled.

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Button to appear: Lucky Strike BAR Honda driver Jenson Button will appear at the BAR merchandise stand on the east side of the Hall of Fame Museum at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway at 3:35 p.m. (EST) Saturday.

Button will conduct a 10-minute question-and-answer session with fans and sign a limited number of autographs.

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Tickets: Tickets for the United States Grand Prix can be purchased online at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com, or by calling the IMS ticket office at (317) 492-6700 or (800) 822-INDY outside the Indianapolis area. Parking and camping information also can be obtained through the ticket office.

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