Mon, Jun 21, 2004 - Page 20 News List

Ferrari paints front row in bright red at US Grand Prix

AFP , INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA

Michael Schumacher will gun for an eighth win in nine races from the front row of the grid at the US Grand Prix, but must first vanquish polesitting Ferrari teammate Rubens Barrichello.

Barrichello elbowed the world champion aside with a pulsating qualification lap, screeching round the hallowed Indianapolis Motor Speedway circuit in 1min 10.223secs, to the delight of baying Brazilian fans.

The 32-year-old was consistently the fastest driver in practice, and reeled off the quickest Formula One lap ever on this 2.6 mile circuit in pre-qualifying of 1:09.454.

Schumacher by contrast, was forced to dig deep for his second place, after struggling with his car in practice all weekend -- until it really mattered.

But the portents for the German's distant challengers are ominous, as he has never finished worse than second in four races at the Brickyard track, home of US motorsport and the famed Indianapolis 500.

Schumacher leads Barrichello in the championship by 16 points with BAR's Jenson Button 10 points further back.

But Barrichello was Saturday content to dwell on his first pole position of the season, and paid tribute to legions of fans cheering him on.

"It's a wonderful time ... I could almost hear them shouting."

But Schumacher warned he would still be a threat.

"I will still be aiming for the win tomorrow, and I expect an interesting fight between us."

Ferrari bosses, with memories fresh of the notorious 2002 race here when Schumacher slowed to let Barrichello take a win, gave both drivers the green-light to battle for first.

"They can race freely and the strategies will be open between the two drivers," said Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn.

"They will each know what the other is doing and apart from making sure they don't knock each other off, it looks like we are going to have a good race."

Japan's Takuma Sato will chase his debut victory from third on the grid after seeing his hopes snuffed out by a blown engine in his BAR-Honda in four of the last five races.

"It's always difficult to beat the Ferraris, they have such a good car ... but I think we will have a very good strategy," said Sato, who will be joined on the second row by teammate Button.

It will be an all-Williams third row, with Colombia's Juan Pablo Montoya and Ralf Schumacher, each 0.8 seconds behind Barrichello.

Both drivers were disqualified last weekend at the Canadian Grand Prix in Montreal due to a minor rules infringement regarding brake ducts, robbing Schumacher of second place and Montoya of the points for fifth.

Olivier Panis, who will drive his 150th Grand Prix on Sunday, will start from eighth in his Toyota.

"It is certainly a realistic target to score points tomorrow," said the Frenchman, who made his Formula One debut in 1994. McLaren, hoping a strong performance here could relaunch a disappointing season, will have to start from well down the grid: Kimi Raikkonen is in seventh place, while Scot David Coulthard is 12th.

The race will play itself out on a hybrid circuit which mixes the demands of Formula One with those of North American Indy car racing.

Cars weave through a traditional set of straights, bends and hairpins on an infield section of the circuit, before swinging on to one of the Brickyard's famous banked turns, and catapulting on to a long start-finish straight.

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