July 3, 2006

Formula One hoping for return to Indianapolis

By Steve Keating

INDIANAPOLIS (Reuters) - Formula One left Indianapolis on
Monday, hoping for a return next year but knowing its future in
America remains in doubt.

The U.S. Grand Prix, a race that disintegrated into a
six-car fiasco in 2005, attracted an estimated 130,000 fans on
Sunday as Ferrari's Michael Schumacher roared to a record fifth
victory at the Brickyard.

Sunday's checkered flag also signaled the end of the
current contract and the start of tough negotiations between
Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Indianapolis Motor
Speedway owner Tony George.

Ecclestone set the stage for what could be stormy talks
when he said last week that the sport did not need a race in
the United States.

However the F1 ringmaster was all smiles on Sunday as he
patrolled the paddock, telling reporters he was hopeful a new
agreement could be reached.

"We're going to try (to do a deal to come back next year),"
Ecclestone said. "It's a case of getting things sorted out with
Tony. It's got to be good for everybody."

The cause was certainly aided by a successful week that
culminated in Schumacher leading Brazilian team mate Felipe
Massa across the line in a hugely popular one-two Ferrari

The applause from the stands was in sharp contrast to a
year ago, when Schumacher's hollow victory was greeted with
boos and debris tossed at the track after the Michelin-equipped
teams withdrew for tire safety reasons.


"I think for the people it was very nice," Massa said.

"They came here last year and didn't really see a proper
race... This year, they saw the show and for sure they are
really happy."

Teams up and down the paddock made clear that they want to
keep the race on the calendar and so too did American motor
racing fans.

Normally reclusive drivers did their part to help the race
rebound from last year's disaster, taking part in promotions
and autograph sessions.

The fans responded to the charm offensive, with an
estimated 250,000 passing through the turnstiles over three

Michelin, who bore the brunt of last year's debacle,
offered refunds and purchased 20,000 tickets to be given away
in a buy two get one free deal to those who attended last year.

Lisa Toth and Melahni Ake were two such fans who happily
took advantage of the offer and were more than willing to
forgive and forget.

"I've only lived here a few years but F1 is the only race I
come to," the Ferrari T-shirt-clad Toth said.

"I was disappointed but I wasn't angry.

"As things went on we kind of thought something might
happen but they didn't explain it very well. But how can you
not love Michael Schumacher?"