Top spot duel for USGP

Alonso, Raikkonen ready to duel again for top spot at USGP INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 16, 2005 - The battle for the World Championship continues with the United States Grand Prix on June 19 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The festivities...

Alonso, Raikkonen ready to duel again for top spot at USGP

INDIANAPOLIS, Thursday, June 16, 2005 - The battle for the World Championship continues with the United States Grand Prix on June 19 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The festivities got underway Thursday, June 16 with the popular Pit Walkabout, during which fans with Race Day tickets were able to view the exotic F1 cars in the garages, attend press conferences and ask questions of the drivers, including three-time United States Grand Prix winner Michael Schumacher, get autographs and participate in many other fan-oriented activities.

Among the drivers meeting the fans and signing autographs was California's Scott Speed. He will drive the third Red Bull Racing Cosworth in the two official F1 practice sessions on Friday, June 17.

The United States Grand Prix is the ninth of 19 races in the 2005 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Fresh off winning the Canadian Grand Prix last weekend, Kimi Raikkonen came to Indianapolis intent on further reducing the gap on points leader Fernando Alonso.

"I am looking forward to continuing the championship battle this weekend in Indianapolis," said Raikkonen, who has three victories this season in his West McLaren-Mercedes. "The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is legendary, and it is one of the places that every driver would like to win at, like Monaco and Spa."

Raikkonen's teammate, Juan Pablo Montoya, won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and is aiming to add an F1 victory at the Brickyard to his resume. He came close to winning in Canada but a misjudged pit stop call and disqualification for running a red light in the pits ended his race.

"After the end to my race in Canada, all you can do is move on to the next event, and where better to go than the Indianapolis Motor Speedway," he said. "It is one of those venues that has something a bit special about it and has some great memories for me, from the Indy 500, which I won in 2000, and the crowds are always so supportive and enthusiastic.

"It is like a home race for me, with all the Colombian flags in the grandstands. I enjoy competing at the track and hopefully will achieve a podium finish this time. The car should be really quick around here, so I'm looking forward to that."

Like the other drivers and teams, Montoya and West McLaren Mercedes have to find the perfect compromise to dial the car in for the 2.605-mile, 13-turn Indianapolis road circuit that incorporates part of the famous oval track.

"The two contrasting elements of the Speedway, the tight, twisting infield and fast, banked section of the oval, means we have a unique challenge for the whole package," Montoya said. "There is very high loading on our Michelins through the banked section, for example, and we need to find a compromise to have the durability to take these loadings while also providing the low-speed grip that is required to be quick in the infield section."

Alonso has four wins this year in his Mild Seven Renault, but he has never been able to make it to the finish line in his four previous F1 races at Indianapolis.

"I hope this year to break this thing," he said of his run of bad luck at Indianapolis. "We have a fantastic car in this season, and we were able to fight for the podium in all the races. And to finish here in the podium or to finish the race for me will be a big, big pleasure."

Alonso hit the wall in Canada while leading. It was the first time this season that he did not finish in the top four. He has 59 points while Raikkonen is second with 37 points.

Ferrari's Michael Schumacher is a three-time winner of the United States Grand Prix, but he is in the midst of his longest losing streak since 1993. Schumacher and his teammate, Rubens Barrichello, finished second and third, respectively, in the Canadian Grand Prix.

While the Ferraris are improving, Schumacher remains realistic about his chances. His second place in Canada was aided by retirements from other top cars.

"You have to be pretty honest about what happened last week," he said. "I would have been fifth in normal circumstance and not second as I finished. But we have had some very good performances through the year like in Monte Carlo in the race."

"We have the speed, but we just don't get it there all the time, particularly in qualifying."

Lucky Strike BAR-Honda drivers Jenson Button and Takuma Sato are looking forward to this weekend's race.

"I have great memories from Indianapolis in 2004 as I got my first podium at the race last year," Sato said. "I am very much looking forward to getting back to Indy and I think we will be competitive. The new aero package looked promising in Canada this weekend, so I hope the car will again show a step forward in performance and it should suit the Indy circuit quite well."

Button agrees with his teammate.

"We were very competitive in Indianapolis last year, and I think we will be again this year," Button said, "so I'm looking forward to the weekend. We don't have the best qualifying slot, but it's reasonable, and I think that we can do great things from there. Montreal was a good race for us even though we didn't score any points, as we showed that the car is back on form.

"It's always a great atmosphere at Indianapolis. The circuit has a lot of history, and the crowd is always very supportive. It should be a good race for us."

2003 Indianapolis 500 winner Gil de Ferran joined BAR-Honda this year as sporting director.

"Personally there is a special feeling returning to Indy for a race," de Ferran said. "Although I return in a very different capacity, Indy is a place where one of my greatest triumphs took place as driver, and I have some fantastic memories. Hopefully I will be able to add to those memories with a good showing from BAR-Honda."

Williams-BMW driver Nick Heidfeld has finished second twice this year and is aiming for another podium finish in the United States Grand Prix.

"I have always liked Indianapolis," Heidfeld said. "I've always had good results there in the past, so I'm looking forward to going back there again and hopefully getting another good result for the team.

"The place itself is outstanding, particularly because of the grandstand in front of the pits. I hope there's another good crowd to give us a great atmosphere. The banking looks spectacular, but for a driver it is actually quite easy to go flat out there as long as you don't have any problems with the car. We should be a bit stronger in the U.S. than we were in Montreal."

Jarno Trulli had three podium finishes this season in his Panasonic Toyota.

"I always enjoy the atmosphere in North America, and this double-header provides a welcome contrast to Europe," he said. "Indianapolis is a special venue which plays host to one of the most important races in the world, and I also enjoy the atmosphere in the evenings because the people are so friendly."

Speed will make history Friday when he becomes the first American driver to take part in an official practice session in his home Grand Prix since Eddie Cheever Jr. competed in the 1989 United States Grand Prix at Phoenix.

Speed will participate in Friday's sessions only. The rules permit teams that finished fifth or lower in the previous year's Constructors Championship to run a third car and driver on the Fridays of Grand Prix weekends.

His duties will be to assist Red Bull Racing drivers David Coulthard and Christian Klien to choose the tire compounds they will use in qualifying and the race.

"I don't think there's so much pressure at this moment," Speed said. "Driving on Fridays, you're not really competing with anything and you're not compared with anyone really. So I think the pressure will be a lot more when you get into qualifying and the race."

Speed is a leading star of Red Bull's Driver Search Program that is aiding young American drivers on the path to F1. Speed saw his first-ever F1 race when he attended the 2002 United States Grand Prix with his father.

"For sure, everything is happening quite quickly," Speed said. "For one thing, it's great to be back in America, much less driving a Formula One car here. So, yeah, it's quite a good week.

"My dad's finally here being able to watch me drive a Formula One car is quite nice, as well. I'm really lucky to be in the situation I am in. I've had a great opportunity with Red Bull, and we're making the most out of it."

***

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 , Red Bull Racing , Mercedes , McLaren , Williams