Formula One makes U.S. comeback

Posted: Thursday, September 21, 2000

Jacques Villeneuve is one of the few drivers on the Formula One circuit who has seen the Indianapolis Motor Speed way in person. That's why he wants fans attending Sunday's SAP U.S. Grand Prix not to expect a lot of passing.

Villeneuve, who won the 1995 In diana polis 500 before jumping to the worldwide F1 circuit a year later, already knows what it's like to pilot a race car around the famed 212-mile raceway. But Sunday's event will be staged on a newly constructed road course that utilizes only a portion of the Brickyard's oval.

''With Indy being one of the centers of open-wheel racing, it is quite good to go there,'' Villeneuve said. ''The only disappointment is that we are not going to be on the oval. So it's going to be strange to be there. It should be great. I just hope that the American fans don't get disappointed with the show because it is impossible to get the same kind of overtaking (passing) on a road course as you get on an oval.''

Translation: Sunday's race might be a lot like too many NASCAR Winston Cup Series stock car races this year, where the drama of passing has been replaced with the doldrums of follow-the-leader.

Nonetheless, Formula One is back in the United States for the first time since 1991, and it's back on the most hallowed piece of racing property on the planet Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tickets for the race all 200,000 of them have been sold out since last May.

''We haven't raced at Indianapolis, so we don't know what the circuit is going to be like, but I think it will be exciting,'' driver Mika Hakkinen said.

Compared to other races at the Brickyard this year, Formula One won't have a hard act to follow. At this year's Indianapolis 500 for open-wheeled cars on the Indy Racing Series, there were only six lead changes in 500 miles of racing. At the Brickyard 400 for the stock cars on the NASCAR Winston Cup Series, there were nine lead changes in 400 miles of racing.

Sunday's Formula One race will cover 190.294 miles or two hours whichever comes first on the 13-turn, 2.606-mile road course.

Unlike other tracks on the Formula One circuit around the world, drivers won't have a chance to test their exotic racers until Friday's practice session. That creates an interesting story line in the F1 championship since the road course will be new and unfamiliar to everyone.

''It will be a new experience for all of us,'' Hakkinen said. ''I'm not worried.''

Hakkinen has a slim two-point lead in the world championship standings with only two races remaining this year.

''Two points are not a lot, but I'm still in the lead,'' Hakkinen said.

Speedway officials made a virtual-reality tape available to all drivers of what it's like to drive a lap around the Indy road course. But there's nothing quite like seeing it in person.

''I've seen some video footage of the track, and it looks quite technical in the infield and quite challenging,'' said driver David Coulthard.

Indianapolis won a bidding war with Las Vegas to get the Formula One series to make a return to the United States. Once Indy got the nod to stage the event, it spent more than two years building the road course and new technical facilities throughout the infield.

Much like soccer, Formula One has a tremendous following throughout the world except the United States. Organizers hope this weekend's race will cultivate new fans.

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