Sun, Jul 02, 2006 - Page 22 News List

Schumacher unperturbed ahead of US Grand Prix

AP , INDIANAPOLIS

Spanish Formula One driver Fernando Alonso of the Renault F1 Racing team takes part in the first practice session at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Friday. The US Grand Prix is to be held today.

PHOTO: EPA

If Michael Schumacher is going to have any chance to catch Fernando Alonso in the race for the Formula One championship, he probably needs to start making some inroads into the points lead in the US Grand Prix today.

But Schumacher, who has four wins and two runner-up finishes in six races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, sure didn't seem worried on Friday.

In fact, it appeared the seven-time F1 champ from Germany was far more concerned with his home country's World Cup match against Argentina than what was happening on Indy's 4km, 13-turn road course.

The Ferrari star, trailing Renault's Alonso by 34 points halfway through the 18-race season, spent little time on the track during Friday's two 60-minute practices, spinning off course after only three laps in the morning session and posting the sixth fastest lap in the afternoon.

"The situation looks pretty good, which means we can tackle the rest of the weekend with confidence. Let's say I had more problems trying to watch the quarterfinals on television than I did in the cockpit. When I went off the track this morning, maybe I was still thinking a bit too much about the grass on the football pitch," Schumacher said.

He wore a self-satisfied smile late in the afternoon after both Germany and Italy -- the favorite team of most of the Ferrari mechanics -- won their World Cup matches, advancing to the semifinals.

"Now we can all concentrate on our main objective, which is to win the race on Sunday," he said.

Though Alonso has won six of nine races this season, including the last four, and finished second in the other three, he still has some trepidation coming to Indy.

The 24-year-old Spaniard says he understands Indy's historic place in auto racing and respects the Brickyard, but he just hasn't been able to get a handle on the USGP course.

"Indianapolis, for sure, has been the most difficult race for us," said Alonso, who has finished no better than 15th in three previous races here.

His first Indy, in 2001, was in a Minardi entry that wasn't competitive. But his last two tries, 2003 and 2004, have been with Renault, one of the sport's top teams.

"The car has never been competitive here and I don't know why," the reigning Formula One champion said.

"We've been quite unlucky. Hopefully, it will be this time, but I have some doubts, for sure," he said.

Still, Alonso was not concerned enough to take part in the opening practice session Friday and he waited through nearly half of the afternoon session before finally driving his blue and yellow No. 1 Renault onto the track.

It took Alonso only three laps to move up among the day's leaders. He wound up the session, dominated by team test drivers -- allowed to run a third team entry only on Fridays of race weekends -- ninth overall.

"This was a normal Friday for me. Friday is all about understanding the tire behavior and what direction you need to go in with setup, which we have done. The circuit grip will improve as we run more, so the track should come to us a little bit and I'm confident for the rest of the weekend," Alonso said.

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