Schumacher predicts race to remember for US fans

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The Independent Online

Michael Schumacher believes that Sunday's United States Grand Prix will play a crucial part in deciding the destination of the drivers' championship - and he is confident of coming out on top.

The five-times world champion is relishing the prospect of a tense penultimate weekend of what has been a thrilling title battle. "The race at Indianapolis will be the most gripping for sure," the Ferrari driver said. "The Formula One season has reached its decisive stage and the US Grand Prix will play a pivotal role in deciding the provisional result, so I am looking forward to it eagerly.

"I expect a weekend of tense racing, above all considering how tight the competition has been this year," Schumacher added. "Last week we tested on different tracks and obtained superb results, meaning that we are in a position to battle for the win.

"I promise the Indianapolis fans a thrilling race in which we will give our best. Even though the track is not the most difficult to run on, the atmosphere at the Speedway really is something else."

Schumacher heads into the 15th round of the 16-race season with a slender three-point advantage over the Williams-BMW of Juan Pablo Montoya, with Kimi Raikkonen only four points further back for McLaren-Mercedes.

The 34-year-old could clinch a record sixth drivers' title if he wins on Sunday and his two rivals falter. However, the more likely prospect is a showdown in Japan on 12 October.

Schumacher has shielded himself from the pressures of the closest championship contest for many years by spending a relaxing few days in North America with his wife, Corinna, heading out immediately after last week's test.

"We are geared up for Indianapolis," said Schumacher, whose five wins also give him the crucial advantage should he finish level on points at the end of the season with either Montoya or Raikkonen.

"A lot of people say that it is a track that is more adapted to BMW-Williams but we can't say that we agree," Schumacher said. "The same thing was said about Monza but, after a tough fight, we won out.

"This means two things: predictions based on performances of years gone by are no longer reliable, and that every tiny error can have serious consequences. Whoever is able to exploit the resources during the weekend will come out on top."

Schumacher won the first grand prix when Formula One returned to the US in 2000 and would have triumphed again last year but his botched attempt at contriving a photo-finish left his team-mate, Rubens Barrichello, crossing the line a fraction of a second ahead of him.

The Swiss-based racer has also started every US race since 2000 on pole, so he will be a tough proposition for Montoya and Raikkonen, who realistically need a victory before the decider in Suzuka, where the track should favour Schumacher.

Jordan-Ford's Ralph Firman is confident of returning to the cockpit for the first time in three races. The Briton was withdrawn from the race in Italy two weeks ago after complaining of an inner-ear imbalance caused by his 150mph crash during practice in Hungary, which forced him to miss that grand prix.

Firman completed 26 laps in the Jordan during testing at Silverstone last week and is desperate to race on Sunday as he looks to secure his Formula One future.

"The most important thing about going to Indianapolis is for me to race after the frustrations of the past few weeks," Firman said. "I've been careful to rest, fully recover and get back into training."

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