Sun, Sep 28, 2003 - Page 24 News List

Fans take note of favorites for US Grand Prix

AP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway made it clear Friday there are two favorites for the US Grand Prix title: defending Formula One champion Michael Schumacher and former Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

Schumacher goes into Sunday's race with 82 points, three points ahead of Montoya. But Montoya, who still has a home in Miami, considers Indianapolis familiar territory.

His boisterous fans welcomed him home loudly during a rainy practice and qualifying Friday. Colombian flags waved in the wind and served as hats, ponchos, skirts and capes for the dozens of Colombians whose enthusiasm wasn't dampened by steady showers.

"This is a beautiful event -- a spectacle," said Humberto Ramirez, 65, a native of Colombia who has lived in Atlanta for 15 years.

Sporting a Colombian flag atop his baseball cap, Ramirez made the race a family event, traveling with his wife, son and grandson.

Montoya, one of only two drivers to have won both the Indianapolis 500 and the Monaco Formula One race, won the CART championship in 1999 and the Indy 500 in 2000 before turning to the Formula One series in 2001.

Schumacher, meanwhile, already has won five titles and a record 69 races in his 13-year F1 career. A sixth title would break the record he shares with Juan Manuel Fangio.

Tim Zook, who has lived in Indianapolis his entire life, said he has given up the Indianapolis 500 for the international flavor of the US Grand Prix.

"I'm just a fan of the track and the crowd. I enjoy this more," said Zook, 52, a Schumacher fan.

Dennis and Ceil Path of East Lansing, Michigan, differ on their favorite drivers but not on their reasons for coming to the race.

"I like the noise, the speed," said Ceil Path, a Montoya fan unlike her husband, who favors Schumacher. "I like the power, and I like the international crowd, the people."

Two Schumacher fans from Omaha, Nebraska, agreed.

"It's the pure love of Formula One," said Shane Spence, who traveled to the race with 22-year-old Milos Sochor, a native of the Czech Republic. "It's the pinnacle of auto racing."

Last man

Jarno Trulli's record lap put him last in Saturday's qualifying for the US Grand Prix.

"We learned a lot about the personality of our car," the Renault driver said Friday after his lap at 216.885kph. "We did a very good lap. It was definitely a big advantage to test the tires this morning."

Trulli also was the fastest in a morning test session and in the final practice before qualifications. His lap of 1 minute, 9.566 seconds on the 13-turn, 4.19km Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course made him a pole contender for today's race.

"We got the best out of the car for the two-hour practice session. It shows we're very competitive," he said. "Of course, I am extremely happy with this result. Looking ahead, I am very confident for the rest of the weekend."

Under a new format adopted by Formula One this year, however, Friday's speeds determined only the qualification order for Saturday, when drivers will go out in reverse order. That means the first to make an attempt will be Jos Verstappen.

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