Adam Cooper's Saturday Diary

A glance out of the hotel window on Saturday morning revealed grey skies and some very big puddles, but at least the rain had stopped. The threat of serious traffic necessitated an early start, but it wasn't really a problem, although even at 8am there seemed to be more people around than the previous day.

The local papers continued to marvel over the influx of foreign visitors, and there were lots of stories about the lack of hotel space, with some suggesting that people were even being forced to look outside the state of Indiana for somewhere to stay. An incredible scenario, and it made one wonder if Tony George might have set his ticket prices a little higher...

Less positive was a story about local TV channel WRTH, who after endlessly plugging the race had apparently fallen out with Bernie Ecclestone and co over access to the track; seems the company didn't like the small print about having to hand over copies of everything it caught on tape. It's standard form for ITV and the rest of the F1 regulars, but the Americans didn't like the 'police state' restriction. Welcome to the real world...

By the time we got to the Speedway the sun was poking through the clouds, but the track was still wet when the cars ventured out for the morning session. There was a bit of slipping and sliding, and the wet plastic kerbs elsewhere looked a little hairy in places.

It didn't take long to dry out, and within 45 minutes times were already down to normal levels. Since the banking itself was dry from the off, the infamous plastic white line at Turn 12 was not a problem, although in another area a piece was ripped up by the cars, and lay sprawled rather messily along the track edge. A more considered alteration had already been made overnight at Turn One, where the blend line from the pitlane out onto the track had been moved, since cars coming out were being given rather too much freedom, at the expense of those already on the track.

By lunchtime the stands were looking really full, especially those along the pit straight, and it was a magnificent sight. The paddock too was very busy, and there was a real sense of anticipation. Plenty of racing celebs were on view, including Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Jack Brabham and Johnny Rutherford, while the already large CART contingent was boosted further by team mates Dario Franchitti and Paul Tracy.

As qualifying drew near, so the stormclouds gathered again. In similar circumstances on Wednesday a monsoon resulted, so the teams knew that they had to get the cars out early. So for once we didn't have half an hour of inactivity broken by the occasional appearance of a Minardi. Instead everyone went charging out to get in one or in some cases two banker laps.

But there was one exception. Just as he was the first to put in a series of flying laps on Friday morning, so Michael Schumacher was the last to join this mad rush. Indeed when it began spitting with rain, it seemed that by sitting in the pits he might have made a serious misjudgement. But in fact he got his sums just right, and when he finally headed out he duly put the Ferrari on pole.

When he did so the stands erupted. Somewhat unexpectedly, Ferrari has emerged as the crowd's clear favourite, and Michael himself noted that Indy had already become another home race, like a Hockenheim or Monza. They cheered too when Rubens got up to second.

This was a bit of an odd session, since most people used up their laps early and it basically fizzled out, so the American audience largely missed out on the thrilling final few minutes we usually get. But F1's bacon was saved by David Coulthard, who still had some laps to play with and stole a dramatic second - with a little drafting help from his team mate that the local fans could fully appreciate. Still, Michael was on pole and when he strolled down the pitlane to the press conference he got a hero's reception.

With qualifying out of the way and the sun shining once more there was quite a pleasant atmosphere in the paddock in the afternoon, although down at Jaguar folk were pretty depressed after the team's worst qualifying effort of the year. It couldn't have happened at a worse time, or indeed place.

In the evening there was a downtown function to celebrate the achievements of Americans in Grand Prix racing. Dan Gurney and Carroll Shelby were among those honoured, along with lesser lights like Pete Lovely and Bob Bondurants. The audience comprised mostly wealthy punters, who had the chance to bid for items like Pedro Diniz's gloves in a charity auction. It was a most impressive turnout, and a clear reminder that the sport's closet following has largely been overlooked for the last nine years. Outside, the city streets were pretty busy, but it was nothing like Friday night, when other functions added to the race related traffic.

With the warm-up starting at 8.30am, and a full house expected, everyone is planning an early start on Sunday. If you've ever been a little envious of those Paddock Club VIPs, consider this; according to the message in reception a corporate group from my hotel is due to leave at 6.15am in order to make it to the 7am pit walkabout. Sometimes it can be an advantage to be an ordinary punter...

So far everything has worked fine, and apart from the slow infield there have been few causes for complaint from drivers or anyone else. But we've yet to see anyone clout the wall in the oval section. Rain is still expected for race day, at least in the morning, so anything could yet happen. One way or another it's going to be quite a day.

Best regards,

AC

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