Jacques Villeneuve is one of the few drivers on the Formula 1 circuit who's ever seen the Indianapolis Motor Speedway 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 Indianapolis 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 2.5-mile raceway. But this Sunday's event will be staged on a newly-constructed road course that utilizes only a portion of the Brickyard's oval. Armed with that knowledge, and his experience in Formula 1, where lead changes are as rare as the truth at election time.
"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 may 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 1 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 - the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Tickets for Sunday's 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," said driver Mika Hakkinen. "It will be interesting to see what sort of welcome we get and what kind of following Formula 1 will get from the public. That's going to be important for the continuation of Formula 1 in the USA. I hope that the people will get excited, and I hope at the circuit we will get a lot of overtaking and exciting racing."
Compared to other races at the Brickyard this year, Formula 1 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 1 race will cover 190.294 miles or two hours - whichever comes first - on the 13-turn, 2.606-mile road course.
Unlike other circuits on the Formula 1 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 over rival Michael Schumacher with only two races remaining this year.
"Two points are not a lot, but I'm still in the lead," Hakkinen said.
"Indianapolis is an unknown circuit to all of us, but we can simulate the American track conditions in tests," Schumacher said. "It should not be more difficult to win there than in any other place."
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. "And that is contrasted by running out onto the main straightaway. I've heard various scary stories of the tire pressures we need to run to handle the constant G-forces that we are going to pull through Turn One (of the main oval)."
Indianapolis won a bidding war with Las Vegas to get the Formula 1 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.
And with the racing weekend finally here, the speedway has 1,000 interpreters on hand to help close the communication gap created by drivers and fans who speak 20 different languages.
Much like soccer, Formula 1 has a tremendous following throughout the world - except the United States. Organizers hope this weekend's race will cultivate new fans who are more used to watching IndyCars and stock cars.
"For me, it's fantastic to come back to America because America is a dream country for us Europeans, especially people like me from an Italian family," said driver Jean Alesi. "When we think of America, we think of dreams and good business, so I am extremely happy to go there.
"I have been to Indianapolis just once, and I did a lap of the (oval) track in a bus with a lot of tourists."
That's more than most Formula 1 drivers have seen of the Brickyard.
"It's nice for Formula 1 to go back to America," said driver Ralf Schumacher. "It will be interesting to see how the people receive us there and how many spectators there will be. Last year I was in America for six weeks, and I had a great time because it is totally different to what I am used to."
Formula 1 will be totally different to American race fans. Except for the lack of passing.
Dover Downs International Speedway (Dover, Del.)
Sunday, 12:30 p.m.
Television -- TNN
Radio -- Motor Racing Network
What it takes to win:
A fast car and a strong neck are requirements to survive 400 miles around a track known as "The Monster Mile." The concrete surface, along with a 24-degree banking, makes for a tough trip. The car has so much grip in the turns, the driver's body gets compressed against the side of the seat. No matter how well a car handles, it often takes days for the throbbing pain to leave a driver's neck. What soothes the ache, however, is a car that maneuvers through the second and fourth turns without trouble to set up a sprint down the straightaway. The problem with running low in the second and fourth turns is it means running dangerously close to the inside retaining wall.
Morris News Service pick:
Other drivers to watch:
Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mark Martin, Dale Jarrett, Rusty Wallace, Jeff Burton and Bobby Labonte
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