This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27

This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27

This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27
May 22nd, 2007

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - This Sunday marks the most exciting day of the motor racing season. It begins early in the morning with the classic Grand Prix of Monaco, continues with the Indianapolis 500 and concludes around midnight when the checkered flag flies at the Lowe's Motor Speedway to signify the end of the Coca-Cola 600.

INDYCARS

Indianapolis 500 - Indianapolis Motor Speedway - Indianapolis, IN

After a long three weeks of preparation and qualifying its time to get down to actual racing. Eleven rows of three cars will squeeze onto the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and begin to accelerate down the front straight for 200 laps and a chance at immortality.

If you win the 91st running of the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," your name and likeness are forever enshrined on the Borg-Warner Trophy. You are seen on every television station and highlights of your win are seen around the world.

Last year, Sam Hornish Jr. won the race to highlight his career. Yes, he had already won two IndyCar Series championships, but it wasn't until he won Indianapolis that his resume was complete.

The victory by Hornish Jr. wasn't assured until he crossed the finish line.

Hornish Jr. got past Michael Andretti and on lap 198 of 200 and took a shot in turn three for the lead. But rookie Marco Andretti got to the corner first and Hornish Jr. fell back about six lengths.

"I thought that it was over when I didn't get by him in (turn) three," said Hornish Jr.

The three-time IndyCar Series champion gathered up his Penske Honda and made one last effort. He closed onto Marco Andretti's bumper as they entered the final two turns. Marco was still ahead as they came out of turn four and could see the finish line and the last "yard of bricks."

Hornish Jr. made one last move on the inside and got alongside Marco Andretti as they neared the checkered flag. Hornish Jr. edged Marco to the finish line and earned his first Indy 500 victory.

"I thought I had it," said a disappointed, but proud Marco Andretti. "I don't know where that speed came from, I guess they were saving it."

"He (Marco) had a heck of a ride and no matter what happened he should be proud of that," said Hornish Jr. of the 19-year-old Marco Andretti.

Its now one year later and hopefully this year can be just as exciting.

This year it appears that three teams have cars good enough to win the race.

Certainly Dan Wheldon and the Target Chip Ganassi Racing team have the speed. The Englishman has already won twice this year and led a total of 483 out of 700 laps. Wheldon's teammate Scott Dixon is second in the standings with two second and two fourth-place results.

In third place is two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves. He owns a win at St. Petersburg and four top-10s. His teammate and defending champion Hornish Jr. is sixth overall.

Last year Penske Racing and Chip Ganassi dominated the series winning 12 of 14 races and combining for 47 top-10s.

The newest challenge to their dominance is from Andretti Green Racing. After a relatively non-competitive 2006, the team is rebounding well and has been right in every race.

Dario Franchitti is fourth in the championship which includes three top-fives. One of his teammates at AGR, Tony Kanaan, is fifth in the standings and won at Twin Ring Motegi in Japan.

Kanaan is the same driver that dominated the series in 2004 winning three times, collecting 16 top-10s (out of 16) and completed every single lap. So the talent behind the wheel is still there. Danica Patrick is the third member of the team and eighth in the championship. The fourth and member of AGR is of course Marco Andretti. They also have a "one-time only" member for this race - owner Michael Andretti.

Michael still dreams of winning the "500" as a driver. He has won it as an owner, but the "driver" it him believes he can still win the one title that has eluded him.

"I'm really excited about our chances," said Michael Andretti, who will compete in his 16th Indy 500.

Since Mario Andretti won the "500" in 1969, members of the Andretti family including his son, Michael and grandson Marco, have had 50 unsuccessful tries at winning the title.

"In 1992 I think I led 170 laps and with 10 laps to go the drive belt on the front engine broke and that was it," Michael Andretti said. "I was just cruising, I was literally coasting, trying to bring it home. I had a lap lead. It wasn't my day."

Maybe this Sunday will be Michael's day.

NASCAR

Nextel Cup


Coca-Cola 600 - Lowe's Motor Speedway - Concord, NC

It was very late in the evening of May 29th, 1994 and a young Jeff Gordon pulled into Victory Lane at the Lowe's Motor Speedway for his first Nextel Cup win. He was just 22 years, nine months and 25 days old and the youngest winner in the history of the 1.5-mile track.

After four championships and 77 more wins, Gordon is still going strong. Through the first 11 events, Gordon has three wins and 10 top-10s to build a lead of 231 points. In the past five races he has been even better. The No.24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet driver has earned 900 points or 180 points per race.

Gordon owns four wins and 15 top-10s at the Concord, NC track, though of late he has struggled. He finished 36th in last year's Coca-Cola 600 and only a little better in the fall event - 24th. In 2005 Gordon finished 36th and 38th so its possible that someone might eat into Gordon's big lead.

That someone would probably be his teammate Jimmie Johnson, the defending series champion. Johnson "owns" the track that has the same name as his primary sponsor. He leads all active drivers with five wins in 11 career starts at Lowe's, including 10 consecutive top-10 finishes.

Johnson won three consecutive "600s" from 2003-2005 and swept both points events in both 2004 and 2005. In the last three years he has finished no worse than third. He also won twice in the All-Star Challenge.

Last year, Johnson finished second twice at Lowe's, both times behind Kasey Kahne.

Kahne had a great 2006, winning a series-high six times and finishing a career-best eighth in the "Chase."

But 2007 has been rough for the young Evernham Motorsports driver. Heading into this Memorial Day weekend, Kahne has accrued just one top-10 amd that was in the season opener at Daytona. Although he has climbed from 36th to 30th over the past few weeks, he is well behind last year's pace when he was eighth at this time.

Its not just Kahne, but the entire Evernham Motorsports team that is struggling. Teammates Elliott Sadler (17th) and Scott Riggs (37th) are also frustrated with the team's results.

"We will get things worked out," said Kahne on his website. "We will. We're making progress. We haven't gotten there yet, but we will. We're confident we will get our performance level where we expect it to be and that's running with the leaders each week."

Maybe this will be the week for Kahne and Evernham.

Busch

Carquest Auto Parts 300 - Lowe's Motor Speedway - Concord, NC

While not exactly a proving ground for young aspiring drivers, NASCAR's Busch Series is proving to be a haven for proven open-wheel drivers to test the waters for a career in NASCAR.

As has been the norm for years, there will be way too many Nextel Cup drivers on the Busch Series entry list. In fact, there are 23 Nextel Cup drivers listed this week, not including NASCAR Hall-of-Fame driver Bill Elliott who is also entered. At least Elliott's excuse is that he needs seat time before his comeback in the Coca-Cola 600.

Though not entered this week (he's busy at Indy), Sam Hornish Jr. has made a number of starts in the series. The 2006 Indianapolis 500 winner has made five starts this year with a best finish of 15th in Atlanta.

Juan Montoya began his NASCAR career in the Busch Series and it has helped increase his learning curve. This season he is running in both the Busch and Nextel Cup Series. He is currently ninth in the Busch Series standings including a win at Mexico City.

Dave Blaney began his career in sprint cars and jumped to the Busch Series. He captured his first win in the series last fall at the Lowe's Motor Speedway.

In 1998 J.J. Yeley finished ninth as a rookie in the Indianapolis 500. He is one of five drivers trying to run full-time in both Busch and Nextel Cup. Other NASCAR drivers with open-wheel beginnings include: Kasey Kahne, Robby Gordon, Casey Mears and Tony Stewart.

In the championship "race," its all about Carl Edwards. The No.60 Ford driver leads the series by 433 over Kevin Harvick and 599 over third-place David Reutimann. Edwards is tied for the series lead with two wins and owns a series-high eight top-fives to go with 11 top-10 finishes in the season's first 12 races.

Edwards is also the defending Carquest Auto Parts 300 winner. He beat Kurt Busch to the finish line by a comfortable 2.458 seconds. Edwards was second behind Mears when Randy LaJoie spun with 17 laps to go.

Mears took the green flag and shot off to a solid lead. But Edwards fought back and wouldn't let him get away. With 14 laps to go, Mears reported that his fuel light started to flicker. Was he almost out of fuel?

He was holding a half-second lead with 10 laps to go when another caution flag came out for the 10th time. There were just six laps (nine miles) to go when the race restarted. The answer was quickly apparent - Mears didn't have enough fuel. Edwards charged to the lead in turn one and so did Busch, Yeley and Johnson. With five laps to go, Edwards' lead was 1.5 seconds and no one was going to catch him.

Hopefully, someone will step up and challenge Edwards this Saturday and for the rest of the season. Otherwise, its going to be a boring summer in the Busch Series.

Craftsman

Ohio 250 - Mansfield Motorsports Speedway - Mansfield, OH

Mike Skinner leads the series in points (1,052), winnings ($242,950), laps led (444), wins (3), poles (4), top-5 finishes (5) and races led (6). Its no wonder that he holds a commanding 85-point lead over defending series champion Todd Bodine and 106 over Ron Hornaday Jr.

Skinner has actually won the last four consecutive poles but is still well behind his own record of eight straight poles which he accomplished in 1995. Skinner won four of those races. He has kept up that percentage winning two of the four races during his pole streak.

Its on to Mansfield, OH where Hornaday Jr. is the defending champion. He edged Jack Sprague by 0.961 seconds in a caution-filled event (18 flags for 85 laps).

Hornaday won last week's race at Lowe's as well. With 11 laps to go in the race he held a two-second lead over Johnny Benson. As Benson came off turn four his right-front tire blew causing him to crash into the wall to bring out the sixth caution flag.

The No.33 Chevrolet led the field to the restart with six laps remaining. Hornaday Jr. held onto his lead as A.J. Allmendinger followed close behind. With three laps to go Erik Darnell brought out the caution flag to set up a green-white-checkered finish.

On the restart Hornaday Jr., known as "The King of Restarts," maintained the top-spot as Allmendinger spun his tires. Allmendinger couldn't make a run on Hornaday Jr. and he crossed the finish line by a comfortable margin.

"Once we got three wide on the track, and it stuck when I was wide open, I knew this was going to be a good truck," said Hornaday Jr.

Hornaday, the series record holder with 30 wins, had not won a race since July 8, 2006. The streak was the third-longest of Hornaday's career - he went 28 races without a victory in 2005-2006.

FORMULA ONE

Grand Prix of Monaco - Streets of Monte Carlo - Monte Carlo, Monaco

The Formula One traveling road show brings its circus to the narrow streets of downtown Monte Carlo for its traditional and most famous event of the season.

The Grand Prix stands alongside other racing events such as the Daytona 500, 24 Hours of Lemans and Indianapolis 500 as one of the great events in motorsports.

However, despite its prestige, star-studded audience and long history that dates back to 1950, the race presents many challenges to the teams. While it may be the height of glamour for the spectators, for the teams, the reality of working at Monaco is very different.

The nature of the 2.075-mile street circuit also makes it very hard to simulate during test sessions, resulting in it being one of the most unpredictable races.

It is a tricky track with plenty of slow-speed corners, forcing drivers to work hard throughout the 78-lap race.

However, despite such confining streets and very low average speeds, the cars still manage to reach speeds in excess of 175 m.p.h. This, coupled with the absence of gravel traps between the track and unforgiving steel barriers, leaves the drivers with no margin for error if they want to see the checkered flag.

"Monaco is the most difficult circuit on the calendar because of the nature of the street circuit and its surface. You're never more than a few inches from the barriers making overtaking a perilous task if not impossible," said three- time world champion Niki Lauda.

"Whatever else one thinks about it, the Monaco Grand Prix is just special," said Michael Schumacher. "Rushing round the track almost touching the barriers not only increases one's motivation, but is also a real challenge. The real peculiarity about it is that it is really narrow. There are some parts where you cannot even see the apex of a corner until you are actually on it and that adds to the excitement."

Even the slightest error here is punished," continued Michael. "Finding the limit on a road generally used for normal traffic, which is completely different to a usual race track, is always difficult. You also have to consider how much you can let the car slide, which it wants to do all the time. It is very exciting"

Also exciting is the historic start to Lewis Hamilton's career. After winning the F3 Euroseries in 2005 and the GP2 series in 2006, he was ready to join the Formula One, but no one could have expected that he would be leading Formula One after four races. Not only is he leading the championship, Hamilton has finished on the podium in all four starts.

He has shown maturity beyond his years and the ability the make smart decisions when needed.

"I am really looking forward to Monaco - I have always run well there," said the 22-year-old, who has won three times in three tries in Monaco's support races.

"However, we do have to keep being realistic - this will be my fifth race in F1 and I am still developing."

Fernando Alonso, the two-time defending World Champion is just two points behind his McLaren teammate. The Spaniard won the 2006 Grand Prix of Monaco with Renault, but has seemed to have trouble with his Bridgestone tires despite being second overall.

"I have not had the results I have wanted at the previous two races but I have kept scoring good points and we have continued to develop the performance of the car," said Alonso.

While McLaren's drivers hold the top-two position in the standings, it is Ferrari that has won three of four events.

Brazilian Felipe Massa has won the last two races at Bahrain and Barcelona and sits just one point behind Alonso and three markers behind Hamilton. And in his first year with Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen won the season opener in Australia and was tied for the championship lead until two week's ago at Spain when an electrical problem left him with a disappointing 19th-place finish.

The F1 championship should continue to be a four-driver, two-team battle between McLaren and Ferrari.

Watch qualifying this week. With passing almost impossible, the qualifying session should be almost as exciting as the race itself.

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27

Easily the best week of the year for auto racing fans.   ;D

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Auto racing glance
May 23, 2007


Site: Indianapolis.

Schedule: Sunday, race (ABC, 1 p.m.).

Track: Indianapolis Motor Speedway (rectangular oval, 2.5 miles, 9 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 500 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Dan Wheldon, a close runner-up in his two previous races at Kansas Speedway, won the Kansas Lottery Indy 300 under caution on April 29. Wheldon was 10 seconds ahead of Dario Franchitti when Ed Carpenter crashed with two laps to go. It was Wheldon's second victory in four races this year, along with the season opener at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Last year: Sam Hornish Jr. overcame a big mistake in the pits and a pair of Andrettis to win the Indianapolis 500. Hornish was penalized a lap late in the race for leaving his pit with the fuel hose still connected. Somehow, he found himself back on the lead lap and in fourth, trailing Michael Andretti, his 19-year-old son Marco and Scott Dixon with two laps to go. A late caution flag then set up one of the most dramatic finishes in Indy history. In a last-second move, Hornish whipped around Marco Andretti on the final straightaway and won the second-closest Indy, by 0.0635 seconds.

Fast facts: The race has taken place every year since 1911, except for when the United States was in World War I (1917-18) and World War II (1942-45). ... The closest finish in Indy 500 history came in 1992, when Al Unser Jr. edged Scott Goodyear by 0.043 seconds. ... Each winner receives an 18-inch sterling silver replica of the Borg-Warner Trophy. The original stands 5-foot-4 3/4, weighs 150 pounds and has a bas-relief bust of each winner. It is valued at $1 million. ... Two-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves won the pole with a speed of 225.817 mph. ... The lineup includes six drivers at least 44 years old - cousins John and Michael Andretti, two-time winner Al Unser Jr., and veterans Davey Hamilton, Marty Roth and Roberto Moreno. ... Three women are also in the lineup - Danica Patrick, Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno - a first in Indy 500 history.

Next race: A.J. Foyt 225, June 3, West Allis, Wis.


Site: Concord, N.C.

Schedule: Thursday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 7 p.m.); Sunday, race (FOX, 5 p.m.).

Track: Lowe's Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 600 miles, 400 laps.

Last race: Kevin Harvick cashed in for the second time this season, holding off Jimmie Johnson to pick up a $1 million payday in the Nextel All-Star Challenge. Harvick, who opened the year with a Daytona 500 victory, has earned $2.5 million from his two wins this season.

Last year: Kasey Kahne ended Jimmie Johnson's run of three straight Coca-Cola 600 victories by taking the lead with 29 laps to go and pulling out to such a huge lead that Johnson never had a chance to catch him.

Fast facts: This is the longest race of the year. ... Five drivers have won the All-Star Challenge and Coca-Cola 600 in consecutive weeks, most recently Jimmie Johnson in 2003. ... Jeff Gordon's first victory in the series was the 1994 Coca-Cola 600, while Matt Kenseth picked up his first win in the 2000 event. ... Kasey Kahne and Jimmies Johnson finished 1-2 in both races last year at Lowe's Motor Speedway.

Next race: Dover 400, June 3, Dover, Del.


Site: Concord, N.C.

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 4 p.m.), race (ESPN2, 8 p.m.).

Track: Lowe's Motor Speedway (quad-oval, 1.5 miles, 24 degrees banking in turns).

Race distance: 300 miles, 200 laps.

Last race: Denny Hamlin won the Diamond Hill Plywood 200 on May 11 for the second straight year, again surviving a wreck-filled race at historic Darlington Raceway. Hamlin, a Virginia native, then paid tribute to the victims of the Virginia Tech massacre, taking a school flag along for his victory lap. Hamlin picked his way through a record-tying 10 caution periods to take his third checkered flag of the season. The race matched the 10 cautions from April 1984. A year ago, there were nine caution periods.

Last year: Carl Edwards passed Casey Mears on a restart with six laps to go to win the Carquest Auto Parts 300. Kurt Busch finished second, J.J. Yeley was third and Mears recovered to finish fourth. Edwards' win made Nextel Cup regulars a perfect 13-for-13 in Busch races for the season.

Fast facts: Todd Kluever will attempt his first start in the No. 26 Dish Network Ford Fusion. This will be the first of two races Kluever will run for Dish Network. Kluever is currently scheduled to run 16 races in the No. 16 3M Ford Fusion and three in the No. 26 with sponsorship from Dish Network and World Financial Group. ... Carl Edwards leads the standings with 1958 points, 33 ahead of Kevin Harvick. ... Bill Elliott makes his first start with Braun Racing.

Next race: AAA Insurance 200, June 1, Dover, Del.


Site: Mansfield, Ohio.

Schedule: Friday, qualifying, 6:30 p.m.; Saturday, race (FOX, 1 p.m.).

Track: Mansfield Motorsports Speedway (oval, .50 miles; turns: compound banking 12-14-16 degrees).

Race distance: 125 miles, 250 laps.

Last race: Ron Hornaday Jr. passed A.J. Allmendinger with 36 laps to go, then held on over two restarts to win at Lowe's Motor Speedway. It was Hornaday's 30th career trucks victory, but the first at LMS. Hornaday, driving for Kevin Harvick Inc., also scored the first win of the season for Chevrolet after Toyotas won four of the first five events.

Last year: Hornaday won the City of Mansfield 250 for his series-record 28th career victory, while former baseball star Mike Greenwell finished 26th in his NASCAR debut. Hornaday, who benefited from pit strategy that gave his Chevrolet the lead at mid-race, held off persistent challenges from Jack Sprague and David Starr and ended up finishing 0.961 seconds ahead of Sprague.

Fast facts: Mansfield was added to the Craftsman Truck Series schedule in 2004, with Jack Sprague winning from the pole in a race that saw 13 caution flags and 94 caution laps. ... Mike Skinner leads the standings with 1,052 points, 85 more than Todd Bodine. ... Skinner finished eighth in last week's race, his first finish out of the top five this year. ... Skinner has won the pole in the last four races.

Next race: AAA Insurance 200, June 1, Dover, Del.


Site: Monte Carlo.

Schedule: Saturday, qualifying (Speed Channel, 8 a.m.); Sunday, race (Speed Channel, 7:30 a.m.).

Track: Monte Carlo street circuit (2.068 miles).

Race distance: 161.304 miles, 78 laps.

Last race: Felipe Massa won the Spanish Grand Prix for his second straight Formula One victory, and Lewis Hamilton finished second to move into sole possession of first place in the driver's standings. Massa, driving a Ferrari, led from the start to beat Hamilton - the first rookie driver to finish in the top three in each of his first four races - by 6.7 seconds.

Last year: Fernando Alonso captured his first victory in Formula One's most prestigious race. Alonso, in a Renault, won for the fourth time in seven races.

Fast facts: The series has been racing on the Monte Carlo street course every year since 1955. The first Monaco race was held in 1929. ... Lewis Hamilton of Britain holds a two-point lead (30-28) over Spain's Fernando Alonso. Hamilton and Alonso are the only drivers to finish in the top five of each race. ... Brazilian Felipe Massa, winner of the last two F1 races, has 27 points. ... The last three winners at the Monaco GP started from the pole position.

Next race: Canadian Grand Prix, June 10, Montreal.

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Jeff Haney on how the Coke 600 has lapped the Indy 500 when it comes to fans racing to the sports book window

The NASCAR Nextel Cup Coca-Cola 600 highlights a busy weekend for auto racing fans and bettors, overshadowing even the 91st Indianapolis 500 scheduled for earlier Sunday.

The Coke 600, in which Jimmie Johnson is a 4-1 favorite, figures to draw about three times as much money from gamblers at the Las Vegas betting windows as the Indy 500, according to oddsmaker Micah Roberts.

After gaining ground on the Indy 500 in the late 1990s, the Memorial Day weekend NASCAR race surpassed its historic rival in terms of betting handle in 2000, Roberts said - the year Juan Pablo Montoya won at Indy as a rookie driver.

This year Montoya finds himself racing as a rookie again, as he makes his Coke 600 debut as a 25-1 long shot.

The explanation for the dropoff in wagering on the Indy 500 and the surge in NASCAR betting is simple, said Roberts, the sports book director at Sunset Station. It's a reflection of public taste, as race fans have become increasingly drawn to the personalities, competitive teams and rugged style of stock car racing.

Indy still commands enough interest among bettors that Roberts created a series of proposition wagers on the race available for betting at all Station properties in addition to odds on winning the race outright.

The featured prop at Stations links both of Sunday's big races, asking which driver will post a higher finish in his respective race - Johnson in the Coke 600, or two-time Indy 500 champ Helio Castroneves at the Brickyard.

Although just 33 cars are expected to start at Indy to 43 in Charlotte, N.C., Johnson is only a small underdog at plus-110 (risk $1 to net $1.10), with Castroneves listed at minus-140 (risk $1.40 to win $1).

The fact Johnson is not a bigger underdog is a testament to his impressive history in the Coke 600, which he has won three times.

"It truly is an example of just how great Johnson has been in Charlotte, (considering) all of the great competition in NASCAR today," Roberts said.

Johnson's teammate, Jeff Gordon, is a 6-1 second choice to win in Charlotte, followed by Roberts' personal selection, Matt Kenseth at 9-1, and teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, each 10-1.

Nextel All-Star Challenge winner Kevin Harvick is listed at 18-1 despite the recent victory, the long odds a result of Harvick's shaky record in long races.

"He's likely to be closer to what he's shown at Texas, Las Vegas and Atlanta over the long haul when he showed in a 20-lap dash," Roberts said, noting his average finish on those three similar tracks was 27th.

Johnson is also listed as the favorite to finish tops among Chevrolet drivers at minus-135, followed by Gordon at plus-110, according to Station odds.

Among Dodge drivers, Kurt Busch is a minus-140 favorite , followed by Ryan Newman at plus-170.

For a long-shot special, Roberts said, don't count out Martin Truex Jr. (45-1), Mark Martin (17-1) or even Montoya.

"Though Montoya had troubles early on last week in the Nextel Open, his quality long runs in Atlanta and Texas are enough to have him considered a quality dark horse," Roberts said.

In contrast to the deep field in the Coke 600, only a handful of drivers have a realistic chance to win the Indy 500, according to Roberts.

After Castroneves, Sam Hornish, Dan Wheldon and Tony Kanaan are each listed at 9-2, with Scott Dixon a 5-1 shot.

Thanks largely to Castroneves and Kanaan, Brazil is a plus-150 favorite in a prop created by Roberts asking from which country the winning driver will hail, followed by the U.S. (plus-200) and England (plus-425).

www.lasvegassun.com

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This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27

FORMULA ONE

Grand Prix of Monaco - Streets of Monte Carlo - Monte Carlo, Monaco

The Formula One traveling road show brings its circus to the narrow streets of downtown Monte Carlo for its traditional and most famous event of the season.

The Grand Prix stands alongside other racing events such as the Daytona 500, 24 Hours of Lemans and Indianapolis 500 as one of the great events in motorsports.

However, despite its prestige, star-studded audience and long history that dates back to 1950, the race presents many challenges to the teams. While it may be the height of glamour for the spectators, for the teams, the reality of working at Monaco is very different.

The nature of the 2.075-mile street circuit also makes it very hard to simulate during test sessions, resulting in it being one of the most unpredictable races.

It is a tricky track with plenty of slow-speed corners, forcing drivers to work hard throughout the 78-lap race.

However, despite such confining streets and very low average speeds, the cars still manage to reach speeds in excess of 175 m.p.h. This, coupled with the absence of gravel traps between the track and unforgiving steel barriers, leaves the drivers with no margin for error if they want to see the checkered flag.

"Monaco is the most difficult circuit on the calendar because of the nature of the street circuit and its surface. You're never more than a few inches from the barriers making overtaking a perilous task if not impossible," said three- time world champion Niki Lauda.

"Whatever else one thinks about it, the Monaco Grand Prix is just special," said Michael Schumacher. "Rushing round the track almost touching the barriers not only increases one's motivation, but is also a real challenge. The real peculiarity about it is that it is really narrow. There are some parts where you cannot even see the apex of a corner until you are actually on it and that adds to the excitement."

Even the slightest error here is punished," continued Michael. "Finding the limit on a road generally used for normal traffic, which is completely different to a usual race track, is always difficult. You also have to consider how much you can let the car slide, which it wants to do all the time. It is very exciting"

Also exciting is the historic start to Lewis Hamilton's career. After winning the F3 Euroseries in 2005 and the GP2 series in 2006, he was ready to join the Formula One, but no one could have expected that he would be leading Formula One after four races. Not only is he leading the championship, Hamilton has finished on the podium in all four starts.

He has shown maturity beyond his years and the ability the make smart decisions when needed.

"I am really looking forward to Monaco - I have always run well there," said the 22-year-old, who has won three times in three tries in Monaco's support races.

"However, we do have to keep being realistic - this will be my fifth race in F1 and I am still developing."

Fernando Alonso, the two-time defending World Champion is just two points behind his McLaren teammate. The Spaniard won the 2006 Grand Prix of Monaco with Renault, but has seemed to have trouble with his Bridgestone tires despite being second overall.

"I have not had the results I have wanted at the previous two races but I have kept scoring good points and we have continued to develop the performance of the car," said Alonso.

While McLaren's drivers hold the top-two position in the standings, it is Ferrari that has won three of four events.

Brazilian Felipe Massa has won the last two races at Bahrain and Barcelona and sits just one point behind Alonso and three markers behind Hamilton. And in his first year with Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen won the season opener in Australia and was tied for the championship lead until two week's ago at Spain when an electrical problem left him with a disappointing 19th-place finish.

The F1 championship should continue to be a four-driver, two-team battle between McLaren and Ferrari.

Watch qualifying this week. With passing almost impossible, the qualifying session should be almost as exciting as the race itself.

Alonso takes pole position for Monaco GP
May 26, 2007

MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) -Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso won the pole position Saturday for the Monaco Grand Prix ahead of McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton.

Alonso completed the 2.076-mile twisting street circuit in 1 minute, 15.726 seconds to win his first pole this season and the 16th of his career - but the first since the Chinese GP in October.

``To be in pole position here is very, very important and the first pole (this season) for McLaren is very important,'' said Alonso, who also led Thursday's practice sessions.

Hamilton was next in 1:15.905. Felipe Massa of Ferrari, who took the pole in the last three races, was third in 1:15.967 for Sunday's 78-lap race.

``I had a fantastic qualifying then it started to rain in the middle of the session. I was in P1 at the time and I was hoping it would continue,'' Hamilton said. ``It was a bit of a gamble a bit of a lottery.''

Alonso agreed that the weather would be crucial.

``Regarding the weather conditions, it may be a bit of lottery.,'' Alonso said. ``The team said four different things in one hour. The weather is changing so quickly.''

Kimi Raikkonen finished 15th after his Ferrari had suspension problems in the second 15-minute session, stopping on the next-to-last turn of the circuit and struggling to get back to the pits.

Massa nearly hit him coming around the turn, but avoided a crash by slowing past Raikkonen.

``I just saw the yellow flag. It was a little bit of a moment I just managed to pass by without touching,'' Massa said.

Ferraris had taken all four previous pole positions this season with Raikkonen winning the first race and Massa the last two.

In his debut F1 season, Hamilton leads the standings with 30 points, two ahead of Alonso. Massa is third with 27 points.

Adrian Sutil of Spyker recorded the fastest time, more than 20 seconds slower than qualifying, during Saturday's early rainy practice session.

Sutil ended up 19th of 22 cars in the afternoon when conditions were dry. It was his best qualifying of the season with a time of 1:18.418.

Last season in Monaco, Michael Schumacher was stripped of the pole after stewards ruled he'd stopped on the track and hampered Alonso, who won the race from the top spot on the grid.

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Re: This Week in Auto Racing May 24 - May 27

Alonso wins Monaco GP to share standings lead with Hamilton
May 27, 2007

MONTE CARLO, Monaco (AP) -Two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso won the Monaco Grand Prix on Sunday, holding off McLaren teammate Lewis Hamilton and Felipe Massa of Ferrari.
   
The Spaniard finished 4.095 seconds ahead of Hamilton and 1 minute, 9.114 seconds in front of Massa after 78 laps on the twisting 2.076-mile street circuit.

Alonso and Hamilton share the lead in the standings with 38 points, five ahead of Massa.

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