Indianapolis Great Unknown for F1 Teams

Anyone who has played a racing car video game has as much experience of Sunday's Indianapolis track as Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.

Indianapolis Great Unknown for F1 Teams

Anyone who has played a racing car video game has as much experience of Sunday's Indianapolis track as Michael Schumacher and Mika Hakkinen.

Formula One's return to the United States after a nine-year absence has excited even the most jaded of drivers. Just one -- Jacques Villeneuve -- has raced at the brickyard temple of American motor sport and for all the teams it is a journey into the unknown.

"This is the race that we've all been waiting for," said Williams's Jenson Button.

"Unpredictability is one of the biggest attractions of Formula One and it doesn't come any bigger than this."

Only part of the famous Oval track where Villeneuve won the 1995 Indy 500 will be used for Sunday's race and drivers have had to prepare for their first taste of a banked corner -- and its G-forces at 320 kph and more -- by "playing" computers.

"Like all the teams we have never been to the track but we have prepared simulations to give us an idea of what to expect," Honda's managing director of research and development, Takefumi Hosaka, said.

"I think you will see over the weekend not only who has the best car but also who has the best simulations."

Addicted To Speed

Fans addicted to speed will revel in the longest straight in Formula One at Indianapolis.

At full throttle it will take around 20 seconds to cover, four seconds more than the straight at Hockenheim, and unlike many tracks in Europe will give plenty of opportunity to overtake, increasing the entertainment value for spectators.

A tight in-field section, especially constructed for the grand prix, with several low-speed corners will mean the set-up of the cars will be difficult to gauge.

Teams will have to decide whether to go for straight line speed or downforce through the corners.

But it is Turn One -- confusingly the track's final corner because the grand prix will go the "wrong" way around the track -- which will pose the biggest problems, not least for tyre manufacturers Bridgestone.

"Technically it will throw up a few challenges we haven't seen before in Formula One," said Jaguar's Eddie Irvine. "That main straight goes on for ever and the banking should be interesting to say the least.

"The track will also require a very different set-up to anything we have used before and tyres will play a very important role."

Tyres will be run with far higher pressures than for the European races to allow for the effect of the banked corners which will exert strong G-force on the tyres' walls. The tyre compound is also expected to be much harder.

Great Unknown

The level of grip on the surface is another unknown for the teams, who also have to contend with the famous "yard of bricks" over the start-finish line, and could lead to major set-up changes after opening practice.

The novelty value of seeing grand prix cars race around the most famous track in the U.S., the high speeds and the closeness of the championship duel between Schumacher and Hakkinen should provide a great spectacle -- which is as important to Formula One teams, sponsors and engine suppliers as the outcome of the race.

Missing out on the marketing possibilities of the huge American market since the last U.S. grand prix in Phoenix in 1991 has hurt the sport's marketability, and Mercedes, Jaguar (and owners Ford), Honda and BMW have a lot riding on the American date becoming a fixture on the Formula One calendar.

Jaguar's decision to take over the Stewart team in 1999 was part of a strategy to appeal to a younger, global audience and selling cars in the U.S. would be made a lot easier if Formula One managed to take the spotlight away from NASCAR racing.

Gerhard Berger, BMW's motorsport director, has high hopes that Formula One is back to stay.

"If we manage to break through this time, it would be a great result for both Formula One and BMW. The U.S. represents one of BMW's most important markets and the BMW sales network is very excited about our Formula One commitment," Berger said.

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