F1 rivals keeping it tight in Japan

Published October 7, 2006

SUZUKA, Japan - With a possible Formula One title on the line, Michael Schumacher gained an early edge over reigning world champion Fernando Alonso by posting the faster time in Friday's practice for the Japanese Grand Prix.

Schumacher, the seven-time Formula One champion, finished third at 1 minute, 34.565 seconds. Defending champion Alonso followed at 1:34.863.

Both came out late in the second session after the sun emerged in the afternoon, allowing them to use dry-weather tires on the 3.6-mile Suzuka circuit. The pair sat out the morning practice, deciding not to take risks on the wet track after morning showers.

Schumacher, who is retiring after this season, could wrap up his eighth world title if he wins Sunday and Alonso drops out or finishes scoreless.

Renault's Giancarlo Fisichella led practice in 1:34.337, followed by Ferrari's Felipe Massa in 1:34.408.

Schumacher's win in Shanghai last weekend tied him with Alonso atop the driver standings at 116 points, after trailing by 25 points with seven races to go. The German's latest victory marked the 91st of his storied career and his fifth in the past seven races.

nhra: The two scheduled qualifying sessions at the inaugural Torco Racing Fuels NHRA Nationals in Richmond, Va., were canceled because of persistent rain. The sessions will not be made up. There will be two qualifying sessions today.