"Or just a repeat of the past?

The U.S. Grand Prix at Indianapolis doesn’t often produce a lot of surprises, tire drama notwithstanding. However, race fans at this year’s U.S.G.P. might witness the first Formula One win by a black driver (rookie Lewis Hamilton) or another notch toward a third straight driver’s title for Fernando Alonso (something achieved by only two other drivers: Juan Manuel Fangio, 1954-1957, and Michael Schumacher, 2000-2004). Or, they might just watch another commanding victory by Ferrari.

Technically, Formula One’s North American swing through Montreal and Indianapolis highlights a four-way battle for the driver’s championship between Fernando Alonso, Lewis Hamilton, Felipe Massa and Kimi Raikkonen, and a two-way fight for constructor domination between McLaren and Ferrari, but so far it’s been predominantly a rivalry between the McLaren teammates. Two-time world champion Alonso and rookie sensation Hamilton share first place in the points standings, although Alonso has the edge due to his wins in Malaysia and Monaco.*

Racing aficionados scoffed when Alonso left his highly successful Renault team, with whom he won his back-to-back championships, but McLaren’s resurgence has proven the Spaniard right. His move has overshadowed Raikkonen’s arrival at Ferrari, who unexpectedly trails his teammate. However, despite McLaren’s momentum and a new downforce package for the two North American tracks, their reign at the top could crumble here. Ferrari has won six of the seven Grands Prix at Indianapolis, and even without Michael Schumacher behind the wheel (although still a technical advisor), the prancing horse is a force to be reckoned with.

Solidly in third place and hoping to remain there, BMW-Sauber predicts strong runs on this continent for drivers Nick Heidfeld and Robert Kubica. The fight for the crumbs left by the top teams is as fierce as the battle up front, with just three points separating the next three teams.

Renault’s Giancarlo Fisichella expects a new front wing to provide an advantage for him and teammate Heikki Kovalainen. Williams’ Nico Rosberg and Alexander Wurz continue to struggle, but seemingly not as much as Toyota, where rumors persist that Ralf Schumacher will soon be ousted for his dismal lack of results. Repeatedly at the back of the grid, the German has only one point, trailing teammate Jarno Trulli’s four. Red Bull’s David Coulthard is still in the hunt, with four points, but teammate Scott Speed, the only American in the field, continues to struggle. Impressively quick at times, Speed lacks consistency, luck and points. However, much like its “parental” team, the Scuderia Toro Rosso expects to be fast in Canada and America.

Whatever the outcome, there will be plenty for race fans to see and do, beginning with the Pit Walkabout on Thursday, June 14. Support races include the Indy Pro Series, IMSA GT3 Cup and Formula BMW USA. For more information, log on to www.usgpindy.com. For tickets, go to www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or call the IMS ticket office at 800-822-4639 or 317-492-6700.

Driver’s Points Standings

(after five of 17 races)

1. Fernando Alonso, Spain, McLaren-Mercedes, 38

1. Lewis Hamilton, Britain, McLaren-Mercedes, 38

3. Felipe Massa, Brazil, Ferrari, 33

4. Kimi Raikkonen, Finland, Ferrari, 23

5. Nick Heidfeld, Germany, BMW-Sauber, 18

6. Giancarlo Fisichella, Italy, Renault, 13

7. Robert Kubica, Poland, BMW-Sauber, 12

8. Nico Rosberg, Germany, Williams, 5

9. David Coulthard, Britain, Red Bull, 4

9. Jarno Trulli, Italy, Toyota, 4

11. Heikki Kovalainen, Finland, 3

12. Alexander Wurz, Austria, Williams, 2

13. Ralf Schumacher, Germany, Toyota, 1

13. Takuma Sato, Japan, Super Aguri, 1