Michael Schumacher made Hoosiers see red yet again yesterday. But where a year ago the red had been anger after he won the six-race farce that passed as a grand prix, this time it was merely the colour of his Ferrari as he sped to a crushing victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
The triumph enabled him to claw back a chunk of the 25-point deficit to runaway championship leader Fernando Alonso, and for what it's worth, made the German the first five-time winner in Indianapolis history. Legends such as A J Foyt, Al Unser Snr and Rick Mears had been quadruple winners of the famed 500-mile race, while Jeff Gordon has won four Brickyard 400 NASCAR races here too. Schumacher won the inaugural grand prix here in 2000, gifted the race clumsily to his Ferrari team-mate Rubens Barrichello in a remarkable kerfuffle on the finish line in 2002, and took the 2003, 2004 and the farcical 2005 races too. He came to America a trifle breathless in Alonso's wake, but left only 19 points behind with another eight races to come.
"We definitely performed extremely well all weekend," Schumacher said. "We prepared ourselves very hard for the two overseas races and knew we had a good car. Having Felipe here alongside is a dream result. Another step towards the championship. Germany getting through to the semi-finals and me winning the race, you couldn't have a better result, really!"
When all of the runners actually came on to the starting grid, to the relief of all the fans after the 14 Michelin runners had pitted after the grid formation lap last year, they did not have to wait long for action. As the midfield raced four abreast into the first corner, something had to give. Exiting the corner the two McLaren drivers, Kimi Raikkonen and Juan Pablo Montoya, BMW's Nick Heidfeld, Red Bull's Christian Klien and Scott Speed, Williams' Mark Webber and Super Aguri's Franck Montagny were all eliminated in two separate accidents. Montoya ran into the back of team-mate Raikkonen, then clobbered Jenson Button's Honda. That pushed the Englishman into contact with Heidfeld, who barrel-rolled spectacularly into a gravel bed.
In the ensuing mayhem, local hero and Toro Rosso driver Scott Speed, the first American to start a US Grand Prix since Eddie Cheever in Phoenix in 1989, was out. Jenson Button was also involved, but managed to get going again only to retire with car damage. Then 14 cars became 12 soon after when Takuma Sato took out himself and Tiago Monteiro.
While all this was unravelling the Ferraris of Felipe Massa, who outdragged team-mate Schumacher into the lead, were disappearing into the distance, leaving Alonso with his hands full of team-mate Giancarlo Fisichella, who blew by him into turn one on lap 15.
Massa's reign ended after the first pit stops as Schumacher assumed command from the young Brazilian on lap 31. Further back, Fisichella was unable to sustain Renault's challenge. It was clear all weekend that Bridgestone had the stronger tyre. The Renaults' lap times were not that far off the Ferraris', but Alonso was clearly struggling and could not even keep up with Fisichella even though he maintained his record of leading every 2006 race by moving ahead briefly during the first pit stops. Worse still for the Spaniard, he could not keep ahead of the Toyota of Jarno Trulli, trailing home only fifth.
Even though last year's controversy had fans walking out in their thousands before the race had even reached its midpoint, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway attracted a big following again this year, with 130,000 spectators yesterday. That bodes well for the renewal of the contract between Bernie Ecclestone's Formula One Management and the IMS owner, Tony George.
United States Grand Prix (Indianapolis): 1 M Schumacher (Ger) Ferrari 1hr 34min 35.199sec; 2 F Massa (Br) Ferrari +7.984sec; 3 G Fisichella (It) Renault +16.595; 4 J Trulli (It) Toyota +23.604; 5 F Alonso (Sp) Renault +28.410; 6 R Barrichello (Br) Honda +36.516; 7 D Coulthard (GB) Red Bull-Ferrari +1 lap; 8 V Liuzzi (It) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth +1 lap. Not classified: 9 N Rosberg (Ger) Williams-Cosworth (72nd lap); 10 R Schumacher (Ger) Toyota (62); 11 C Albers (Neth) Midland-Toyota (37); 12 J Villeneuve (Can) BMW-Sauber (23); 13 T Monteiro (Por) Midland-Toyota (9); 14 T Sato (Japan) Super Aguri-Honda (6); 15 J Button (GB) Honda (3); 16 K Raikkonen (Fin) McLaren-Mercedes (0; retired first lap); 17 N Heidfeld (Ger) BMW-Sauber (0); 18 J P Montoya (Col) McLaren-Mercedes (0); 19 M Webber (Aus) Williams-Cosworth (0); 20 S Speed (US) Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth (0); 21 C Klien (Aut) Red Bull-Ferrari (0); 22 F Montagny (Fr) Super Aguri-Honda (0). Fastest lap: M Schumacher 1:12.719 (lap 56).Leading overall Championship standings: Drivers: 1 Alonso 88pts; 2 M Schumacher 69; 3 Fisichella 43; 4 Raikkonen 39; 5 Massa 36; 6 Montoya 26; 7= Button, Barrichello 16; 9 Heidfeld 12; 10 Coulthard 10; 11= R Schumacher, Trulli 8; 13 Villeneuve 7; 14 Webber 6; 15 Rosberg 4; 16= Liuzzi, Klien 1. Constructors: 1 Renault 131pts; 2 Ferrari 105; 3 McLaren-Mercedes 65; 4 Honda 32; 5 Sauber-BMW 19; 6 Toyota 16; 7 Red Bull-Ferrari 11; 8 Williams-Cosworth 10; 9 Scuderia Toro Rosso-Cosworth 1.Reuse content