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Friday race preview - Schumacher confident 26 Sep 2003

Michael Schumacher (GER) Ferrari.
Formula One World Championship, Rd15, United States Grand Prix, Preparations, Indianapolis, USA, 25 September 2003

Michael Schumacher says he is confident of his chances of winning a record sixth world championship crown - and he could do it this weekend if he leaves Indianapolis Motor Speedway with 10 points more than rivals Juan Pablo Montoya and Kimi Raikkonen. It is the first time since 1986 that three drivers are still in the running for the title with only two races to go.

World Champion Schumacher, already a five-time winner this season and the winner of the inaugural United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000, leads the title chase with 82 points.

"I think we have a really good car," Schumacher said yesterday. "We have a good package. We have worked very intensely on every option in testing last week. We feel we are very well prepared, but at this stage, less talking, more showing is better.

"It's exciting. It's good. We are strong; we won the last race. We obviously believe in ourselves, and the rest is, you take it as it comes, and you do your best."

Montoya is also a past winner here, of the Indianapolis 500 in 2000. He led the 2001 US Grand Prix too before retirement, and this season has won twice and scored seven further podium finishes for Williams. The Colombian was also upbeat. "It's go out there and do what we can," he said, explaining the strategy he intends to adopt this weekend.

"It's a three-point difference, and we can narrow the gap, so it could be ideal. We've got to try to stay in contention with Michael and make sure Kimi (Raikkonen) doesn't get ahead of us, either. It's going to be quite interesting race. I think we should have a very good one here. I don't have to win the race," Montoya added. "I need to make sure I finish next to Michael and Kimi, and that doesn't make it necessary to win."

Montoya also believes that the team that wins the Constructors' Championship also will win the Drivers' Championship this season. At present Williams leads that with 141 points to Ferrari's 137.

"I think the way the championship might go is whoever wins the Drivers' might win the Constructors', as well, because probably to have the best car is going to make the difference," he suggested. "I think we have to wait and see what happens. But we'll take it as it comes."

Raikkonen is the man who could upset both of them, though with a seven-point deficit to Schumacher he is the man with the most to do, and he has made it clear that he intends to attack this weekend. "I think we just need to do our own things and try to be quicker than those two guys," he said. "I think our car should be more prepared here against Williams and Ferrari here than it was in the last race, at least I hope."

McLaren lacked straight-line speed and sheer grunt compared to Ferrari and Williams in Italy, but the MP4/17D should be perfectly suited to the unusual characteristics of Indianapolis.

Past CART champions Jacques Villeneuve and Cristiano da Matta believe it will be tough to predict who will win.

"For once, it's very open, so it's impossible to know," said Villeneuve, 1995 Indianapolis 500 winner and CART champion, and 1997 Formula One world champion. "Obviously Kimi's car seems to have been less competitive in the second half of the season. But he knows if the two in the front fight and go off, he gets the points. So I think that's great and makes it exciting for F1."

Da Matta said: "As Jacques said, it is so open, and especially the Ferrari and the Williams, they are so close. It depends on so much on weather conditions. So whatever tyre works better in whatever situation, in case of rain. It's just wide open right now."

Elsewhere, the good news is that Ralph Firman is back in action at Jordan. He was joined by 2003 Formula 3000 champion Bjorn Wirdheim during this morning's private test session.