As the 2003 FIA Formula 1 world championship enters the final straight, the Indianapolis Motor Speedway plays host to the United States Grand Prix this weekend – the fifteenth and penultimate race of the season.
Team Review: Panasonic Toyota Racing crosses the Atlantic on the back of last week's encouraging test sessions. Cristiano da Matta completed two days of running in Barcelona, whilst team-mate Olivier Panis drove a sole day at Circuit Paul Ricard in the south of France. Third driver Ricardo Zonta totalled a massive 328 laps over four days in Jerez, Spain. Duties were split between testing new aerodynamic parts and Michelin tyres for Indianapolis and Suzuka, long-term development work and evaluation of a new specification engine that the team will use at the Japanese GP.
The Weekend Ahead: Toyota is no stranger to success at Indianapolis, having won the famed Indy 500 on the motor speedway's renowned oval back in May. The Indianapolis F1 track incorporates some elements of the high-speed oval, adding a twisty, low-speed infield section. These two distinct characteristics pose a unique challenge to teams as engineers and drivers strive to find the best compromise of downforce levels over the lap. At almost one kilometer in length, the final corner banking and pit-straight combine to produce the longest straight on the F1 calendar.
Ove Andersson – Team Principal
"I hope the good work that the team carried out in testing at Barcelona, Jerez and Paul Ricard last week will put us in good shape for the US Grand Prix. Our Toyota colleagues threw down the gauntlet by scoring a one-two in the Indy 500 event at the first attempt earlier this year, and although we are not yet in a position to fight for victory in Indianapolis this weekend, we should again be looking for a top ten position in qualifying and from there aim for points."
Olivier Panis – Car Number 20
"The Indianapolis Motor Speedway is one of the most famous motorsport venues in the world and this gives it a very special ambience during the race weekend. The track itself requires a careful compromise of downforce levels to enable us to be quick enough along the very long pit-straight, whilst being competitive through the twistier and slower infield section. We found some interesting things at the tests last week, so I think we should be able to qualify in the top ten again. Then our priority must be to finish the race after the disappointing retirements in Hungary and Monza, hopefully with some points in the bag."
Cristiano da Matta – Car Number 21
"I'm very excited about the US Grand Prix, as I haven't raced in the States since my CART days, although I have actually never driven at the Indianapolis Speedway. Of course, I have seen it many times on the television, but my race debut will be on Friday morning. I don't think it will be too difficult to learn the F1 track, because there is just the long straight and a combination of slow speed corners. On paper, it looks like it will be more of a challenge to set the car up to perform well along the straight, as well as through the slower infield section. Whatever happens, I am sure it will be a highly enjoyable weekend."
2002 Flashback: The TF102s completed 84 laps in Friday practice setting the 12th and 14th best times. Having struggled in the morning session, car 25 battled with understeer but still managed the 16th fastest time. Car 24 had to settle with 19th on the grid after losing performance from the morning. Problems with both cars led to a lacklustre race. Car 24 finished in 14th place with car 25 one further behind in 15th.