USGP returns to Indianapolis for the penultimate race of its season The driver"s and constructor"s championships are decided, but there"s still good racing to watch. In case you missed the 6:30 a.m. Grands Prix on Speed Channel, here"s a rundown as the F1 circus comes to town for the 2002 SAP United States Grand Prix Sept. 27-29, 2002.

Photo courtesy of Indianapolis Motor Speedway

Ferrari This season has been all about Ferrari. Twelve wins in 14 races, three consecutive constructor"s titles and back-to-back driver"s championships illustrate the prancing horse"s dominance. Attribute part of the team"s success to members Jean Todt, Ross Brawn and Rory Bryne. Love him or hate him, Michael Schumacher - sometimes referred to as "the chin" - has 10 wins notched on this year"s belt. He won his record-tying fifth title in France, and has been off the podium only once since 2000 (Monza "01). The tifosi are pleased. Schumacher"s teammate, Rubens Barrichello, has scored three wins this season (unless you want to get into the whole Austrian GP controversy) and helped clinch the constructor"s title for Ferrari at Hungary. Although no longer wearing his "#2" cap, the personable Brazilian definitely knows his support role. McLaren McLaren has finished second to Ferrari in the championship for two years running. The Mercedes-Benz all-new V10 engine and a change to Michelin tires introduced new variables for the team to deal with. David Coultard captured one of the non-Ferrari wins this year. Yet it is far from the championship-winning season the Scot always predicts, and everyone expects more from DC than "merely" a points finish. Kimi Raikkonen replaced fellow Finn Mika Hakkinen, who retired after nine seasons and two drivers" titles - and who is "defending" champ of the USGP. Raikkonen has demonstrated strategy savvy and balls-out racing, but has failed to spray the champers from the top step Ö yet. Williams Sir Frank"s team is inexplicably facing another winless season. Two competitive young bulls are aggressively surging toward the front, but engine reliability has been a serious issue for the wily wheelchair-bound owner. The BMW engine may be powerful, but you know the old adage: to finish first Ö Ralf Schumacher is the only other non-Ferrari driver to score a victory this year. Rather than working together against the grid, little Schuey has been locked in a fierce battle with his teammate - often to the detriment of both. Juan Pablo Montoya has been lightning quick - eight poles! - and fiercely competitive. CART followers expect nothing less from the Colombian. But they expect him to get back onto the top step of the podium soon. Juan is said to be pumped up for a return to Indy, scene of his great Indy 500 victory. Sauber Coming off a reasonably successful 2001 season, Sauber is stuck with Petronas-badged Ferrari 2001-spec engine. Nick Heidfeld has not delivered on the promise - which may be why he was passed over for the McLaren seat. Rookie Brazilian Felipe Massa has been fast but accident-prone, and thus, disappointing this season. There"s a talent there waiting to be nurtured and put into better equipment. However, he received the first ever grid demotion penalty by the FIA as a result of his clash with Jaguar"s Pedro de la Rosa at Monza, and will start the USGP 10 places back from whatever qualifying position he achieves. Although both drivers blame each other for the incident, race stewards held Massa responsible. Jordan Irish underdog Eddie Jordan has made a career of upsetting the odds makers since he first burst onto the scene in 1991 with a fast car that surprised and embarrassed its rivals. With an eye for driving talent (both Schumachers and Jean Alesi have worn the Jordan colors), Eddie continues to challenge the dominance of the established teams at the head of the pecking order. British F3 champion Takuma Sato has shown some flash in the yellow car, but usually it"s as he"s flying off-track. Giancarlo Fisichella has had an equally frustrating season, tied in a three-way battle for ninth in the championship. BAR A revamp of the Tyrrell team, British American Racing was formed in 1999 by Jacques Villeneuve"s manager Craig Pollock. Internal strife put former Prodrive boss Dave Richards in Pollock"s place, but little else has changed. The works Honda engines did little to improve the team"s stats. Jacques Villeneuve has expressed his displeasure, but continues to show moments of signature flash on track. Often let down by the car, he has only three points. Still, he"ll be back, after reportedly turning down $50 million to return to the Player"s CART team next year. Olivier Panis has out-qualified his teammate more often than many want to admit. There"s life in the old Frenchman yet; he"s going to Toyota next year. Renault Renault returns as an F1 constructor for the first time since 1985 after taking control of the Benetton team. Last year its radical engines started off with a significant power deficit put improved dramatically as the year wore on, as did the Benetton chassis. The highly rated Jarno Trulli has only managed to score seven points, sitting well behind his flashy teammate, Jensen Button. Jaguar Now in its third year of Formula One, Jaguar is fronted by Niki Lauda, who ousted Bobby Rahal and Neil Ressler from the management regime. The new R3 has struggled and technical director Steve Nichols left the team after a fundamental problem with the front wing was discovered. The always outspoken Eddie Irvine scored his first podium of the season at Monza, but it may not be enough to secure his seat for next year. Niki isn"t happy with the Irishman. Pedro de la Rosa and his wallet look more secure, although rumors have Mark Webber coming, and Antonio Pizzonia has tested for a seat: 1 + 1 + 1 = no Pedro? Toyota Toyota is Formula One"s newest manufacturer, making the bold decision to enter the sport as a chassis and engine constructor, rather than the safer route of purely supplying engines. The team spent all last year testing. Mika Salo passed up on the opportunity to drive the most competitive ever Sauber in favor of a year"s testing with his new team, only to be frustrated by a season of errors and few finishes. Allan McNish finally got his long dreamed-for F1 seat, but both Toyota drivers have already been handed pink slips. Cristiano da Matta and Helio Castroneves are vying to be Panis" teammate. Minardi From its humble entry into F1 in 1985 to the present day, the tiny Minardi team hasn"t even been close to winning a race in more than 250 starts. European Aviation boss Paul Stoddart saved the team last year, but it remains a perennial back marker with the antiquated Fondmetal V10s it has run for the past two seasons - now badged as "European" V10s. Minardi is talking to Jos Verstappen and Justin Wilson - whoever can bring money gets a seat. Mark Webber has been able to show his stuff enough to get a serious look from Jaguar. Anthony Davidson replaced Alex Yoong, but his results were little better than the Malaysian"s four DNFs and four DNQs. Yoong came back at Monza. Arrows Are you in or out? The struggling team has missed Spa, Hungary, France and Italy. A number of creditors are seeking payment from Arrows, including engine supplier Cosworth, and a deal to sell the team is being negotiated. Due to smaller car counts (on the demise of Prost"s team), the FIA has yet to sanction the team for missing events - an action it is within its rights to take. Arrows has the dubious honor of holding the record for the longest losing streak in F1 - the team has failed to win a single race since it started its first GP in 1978. Heinz-Harald Frentzen replaced the hard-charging Jos Verstappen for a while, but eventually abandoned the sinking ship. The solid, if unspectacular, Enrique Bernoldi has racked up nine DNFs in 10 starts. Also to watch is the weather. In the rubber battle, Michelin is coming to grips with cooler weather, but its rain tire is an unknown quantity. Tickets for the SAP United States Grand Prix are still available by calling (800) 822-INDY (4639) or online at

www.imstix.com

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