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Pole-sitters fret over slippery start on bricks

By KEVIN KELLY, Times wires

© St. Petersburg Times, published September 24, 2000

INDIANAPOLIS -- The surface that helped make the Indianapolis Motor Speedway famous became a point of worry among Formula One drivers after qualifying Saturday for the U.S. Grand Prix.

A yard-wide path of bricks, a reminder of the surface that lined the track when it opened in 1909, stretches from the inside to the outside wall at the finish line.

Since Formula One races begin from a standing start instead of a rolling start, the top two qualifiers for today's race, Ferrari's Michael Schumacher and McLaren's David Coulthard, expressed concern that they might spin their tires accelerating over the bricks and might lose position.

Both cars will be positioned just a few feet from the area when the green flag drops.

"I think from where I am on the grid, if you look at the starting position for the pole, they have (bricks) right in front of it, so I actually think this will be a disadvantage from where I am," said Coulthard, who is 17 points behind Schumacher in the standings. "Hopefully I can get the car moving. ... I feel pretty confident I can get the jump for the start."

Formula One races usually offer few chances to pass, meaning third-place qualifier and series points leader Mika Hakkinen could gain an advantage if Schumacher and Coulthard have trouble.

"What David explained about the starting grid situation, being in the second row is not too bad of an idea," Hakkinen said.

TOP SPOT: Schumacher, who is second in the standings, became the first Formula One driver in nine years to win a pole in a grand prix in the United States.

He did so in front of an estimated 40,000 fans and with the help of his Ferrari teammate.

Schumacher slip-streamed past Rubens Barrichello, who qualified fourth (125.700 mph). The aerodynamic push helped Schumacher turn a fast lap of 126.265 mph over the new 2.606-mile road course.

Coulthard used the same technique, getting by Hakkinen in the closing minutes of qualifying, and posted a speed of 126.051 mph.

"Obviously we put on a good show today like David did in the last couple of seconds and had a good fight for the pole position," Schumacher said. "So it was a good day for all of us."

RAIN OR SHINE: Rain is forecast for today, but the race will go on without a hitch. Formula One teams race in the rain with grooved tires. "We just hope that we don't find too many rivers running across the circuit which could cause trouble, as we don't know the place in full wet condition," Schumacher said.

SUGGESTIONS: Asked if he thought there should be any improvements made to the facilities at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Coulthard offered an interesting suggestion: "The main thing really would be nice to have some toilets in the garage because it's a long walk." Hakkinen added: "I can confirm this."

AROUND THE TRACK: Armonde Sylvestre, 53, David Gilbert, 47, and Barry Rihbany, 30, of Ontario, died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a tailpipe in their RV became clogged, leaking gas into the motor home, which was parked outside Indianapolis Motor Speedway. ... William Andis, 58, an officer with the speedway's Safety Patrol, was in serious condition after being struck by a car. Police arrested Juan Diaz of Indianapolis and charged him with drunken driving and leaving the scene of an accident.

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