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REPORTS

F1VWC 2003 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX
Indianapolis, Indiana, United States of America

Qualifying Report
Sept. 28, 2003

EIRE FORD

Pole, as simple as that, and achieved under the 1m 09. barrier, which in the end only Ryan could beat. It may not have been the best car to drive as he would later report, but ‘It did enough for pole number 1. It was strange, my race performances are usually my strength, so I assumed I would win first, guess I was dealt a different hand!' The pole lap coming at the end of the session, with a few minutes remaining he snatched 2nd on the grid first off with a lap just over 1m 09.1, then next lap around, found some more time to take the pole. Teammate Daniel Wilkinson did a good lap too, but ended a frustrating enough session in 7th. Though he had the opportunity to go a lot faster, he later would say ‘ I spun on my best lap, looking at a split time!'

Ryan's weekend started off badly, having engine failures on day 1, he ended the practice session with a 1m 10.568 lap, and a considerable pace off his teammate. Eventually, he got a little help from a friend, along with alterations to the setup/driving style and his lines, and the sectors strung together to set his first pole, first front row, and indeed best qualifying session in general since 2002. However, Ryan was a little reluctant to give praise to the EIRE :

‘The car was good, I got the best from it – car could have been better.' – Kieran Ryan

It was oversteering that caught him out on some of his laps, but in the end he got it together to achieve a much needed goal. In turn, he kept the champion from another pole position, and kept the championship for Daniel just alive!

However, while the time for Wilkinson does show a 7th placed lap, his splits were equaled to his teammate's time. In the end though ‘the track conditions were perfect, I wasn't!' After some words with the team from the cockpit, it was decided that 7th will be enough to fight with come race day and that the rest of the day should be dedicated to race setup and use the remaining resources of qualifying efficiently.

When Daniel was asked about his teammate's role come race day, he smiled, lifted his thick black sun glasses, took a drink of Volvic water and simply replied: ‘ He can finish behind me in 2nd , that's all I ask!' He then smiled and strode off with another day of qualifying put behind him.

William Ponissi now in both a driver and team role, still had plenty to say about his drivers, whom he is fighting to retain for year 3 of the EIRE experience. ‘A wonderful display by Kieran, and another consistent and solid performance by Wilkinson.' Nothing bad to say at all, but then why would there be. The team celebrates its first pole position ever, and for Kieran, only his fourth qualifying session of the year, he creates a new statistic for himself along with the team.

When he was slyly asked by a fellow Czech reporter why he wasn't worried about Daniel's place, he answered ‘Daniel shows true pace in the race, he never got a pole, but has won 4 races, why should I be worried?' The crowd laughed at the Czech reported had some talking to do, conducting the ‘interview' on live Czech television. The target for the team is to finish ahead of both Mikko and Shiro and from qualifying they have – sadly for the wrong EIRE driver. Are team orders a question, well: ‘We haven't got team orders, but we don't lack common sense also. It's important to play our best cards'.

Come race day we shall see if or when EIRE try and get Daniel ahead of Kieran. Perhaps Kieran will have the legs over the Aussie driver, or maybe Daniel will leave everyone else in the dust come the finish of the American Grand Prix. Kieran is currently 2-1 up on the Aussie.

MMC MUGEN-HONDA

JTM-spawned team perhaps? This question came to mind when writing this report. They may not possess the Ferrari standard unit on the JTM or even the skills of Toby Lock, Matt Maple and Juan Tortella, but they do have similar qualities to those people. MMC are band new, with two experienced drivers and teammates and a wise manager in the form of American Ryan McConkey, doing rather well in front of the local crowd. Teammate Paul Sleight fell less than 3 tenths behind his teammate, and made it 10th/11th grid slots for this new team, all combined with a rather poor engine of Mugen-Honda, but buy did they pull it off!

McConkey, apart from a little error in turns 4 and 5, secured 10 th. He did have some minor problems, as he explains: ‘The car was a little low on grip but a setup change fixed the problem.' It was a rather fun day for him, besides a few drivers holding him up down the back straight, he was quite happy with the car.

All went well then for the lead driver and he made his desires known of some points at the end of the race. He was helped on today by his good mate and teammate Paul Sleight, setting the 11th fastest time of the day, the first driver to be over the 21 second mark in sector 1.

Lack of bhp really put end to any serious top 6 grid slots, but when it's a new team, a 10/11 position will do nicely. Paul reported some early problems with setup but after some compromises with Ryan's setup the two settled on a useful setup. The car was reported to be well balanced on full of grip, to the extent that neither driver eased off for the last two turns of this adapted motor speedway.

‘The car was well balanced after me and my teammate Ryan were trying different setups at first and then settled on a compromise between the two.' – Paul Sleight

While the car ultimately took some dialing in as per usual for all teams, the car settled in to a persuasive drive at the end of the day, setting really fast sector times and which likely surprised some team bosses on just how fast these two were actually going. The driver combination came to light way back at the end of 2002 when both were signed up as promising drivers for the old MolotovF1 team in the GPVWC, sadly both disappeared soon after the season began but all of the remnants remain today. Both drivers signed up for Ryan's team and Mariano is currently racing for Stealth-BMW.

This team did marvels come the end of the 60 minutes session, given all the disadvantages facing a new team: lack of bhp and lack of overall experience in this league. All of these factors slip streamed away with both drivers outpassing expectations.

‘After the SFO league collapsed, I thought of F1VWC to join, now I'm glad I did, look at the results!' – team boss Ryan McConkey speaking after the session's conclusion. His desires were clear after the session: any points will do for the team, but finishes are key to success. When he was asked about Mugen-Honda's recent downfall due to tax evasion of millions, he just replied with sincere comments: ‘It was our only affordable engine, next year we hope to change.'

A fantastic achievement was made by this small but success-hungry team today, a great performance which showed other teams that it's not just power that steers a team to success! Ryan McConkey 10th, Paul Sleight 11th .

JTM FERRARI

3rd and 5th, once again common ground for the JTM team. These positions we expect now to come from these drivers, the calibre of their driving style once again produced some fantastic results. The Matt Maple sandwich consisted of old Mapes boy Kieran Ryan, current Mapes drivers Jakonen and Loukasmaki and of course the charismatic Matt Maple himself, CEO of the team. Some satisfaction must come from the Englishman having led these drivers into the spot light, which they all currently hold.

Matt Maple had a good afternoon, posted the 3rd fastest time in the end, but for a good majority of the session he held pole position of a low 1m 09. lap, in the end it was good enough for 3rd place: ‘Well on my fastest lap I made 2 mistakes which cost me pole, but the track was really good; we ran early and got some nice temperatures into the tyres' said Maple. So overall the JTM driver was quite happy with his day's running, another top 6 well and truly wrapped up. Matt delightedly told all of his plans come race day: ‘We (Ryan, Maple, Lock and Loukasmaki) will all gang up on Shiro and not let him pass [ha-ha].' He smiled and grinned but then answered the question properly: ‘JTM are here for points, I just want a good race result and maybe a podium if all goes well.'

Matt then summed up his racing too us all, and like his teammate, lets nothing bother him: ‘I will continue to drive my own races and just drive as well as I can... nothing to do with other people.' When asked about how he and the team has done so well he explained that if you race hard, play hard then you can drink even harder!! He went on the say how much this has been a learning curve for him and how qualifying is good for him and the team but the race needs some improvement.

Teammate Toby Lock ended the session in another creditable 5th place, and once again a good top 6 placing. Through the weekend Lock had no real complaints, simply went about his normal business of dialling the car into the sometimes misleading difficult nature of this Indianapolis adapted speedway. The setup he selected was a joint effort with his teammate and he posted a lap of 1m 09.405, about 2 tenths slower than his Maple. ‘I didn't think my first sector was very good initially, but seeing later it seemed fine compared to others.'

Another good qualifying behind him Lock spoke of great hopes for the race: ‘Better than Monza , which was a real let down. I'm not sure to be honest; hopefully we can be in the points again.' The team did hope for better results in race trim then their 7th and 9th places at the Italian Grand Prix, and I think they will. Yet still all to play for as we head into the penultimate race of the season. Matthew Maple is in 12th position in the championship standings and teammate Lock is 13th on 8 and 5 points respectively.

The final and most inspirational words were said by team manger Tortella:

‘Well, let me tell you. The most important part is both drivers. They attend all tests, share information, and work together towards the race. I have to say here, Matt takes the honours, because he told me about Toby to complete the line up.' – Juan Tortella

MMRT TOYOTA

Another debutant this race was the MMRT Toyota team, who did a fairly good job at it. Drivers Miki Mihailovic and Miguel Oliviera did a good job in their opening qualifying session, posting the 13th and 17th fastest times of the afternoon; however they were separated by a second.

Miki was happy enough with his 13th fastest time. The days were spent trying to dial the car into the track, and gain some vital experience for the remaining 2 races and for the upcoming 2004 season. ‘We are low on BHP but we can't expect much more then this. I found a good setup which enabled this place and time.' He left the track earlier with a smile on his face; he managed to beat both Stealth cars: ‘We managed to beat both Stealth cars which are the best in league.'

Miki was quite realistic talking about his race chances come race day. He sighted gaining experience and finishing races important and his fist goal and then points, but from 13 th it's not all ruled out but will be hard in your first race in a new league and with such a hard and well fought championship in our hands, then again, anything's possible.

Teammate Oliviera had problems this weekend. Through free practice and into qualifying he was locked in a battle with himself and his car, understeering issues were to become his headache of the day along with reoccurring braking problems, the car at times being sighted breaking down on the start/finish straight. Lack of experience was always going to be a little issue but with these problems it will hurt more.

‘The track conditions were ideal for a good lap, but as I said before, I'm lacking on testing with the car.' – M.Oliviera

With some car issues he was expecting a worse grid slot but overall Miguel was happy with his debut attempt.

As for the race both drivers were intent on finishing as a first goal – than points can follow. Both drivers performed well today and didn't fold under pressure like origami can. It's to be seen how well the car will go after 73 laps of this hard track. Certainly poor bhp is punished badly, let's just hope these guys get it to the finish, and keep their ears to the ground.

STEALTH BMW

Italy they triumphed, United States they slumped. Sadly the team did not carry on their recent fortunes of pole position from Italy to the USA. Mariano Malisani qualified in 16th position while Willy Ponissi struggled throughout the weekend and eventually qualified last, and in 20th place. Team Principal Cragg I'm sure was holding in his true feelings. Bad luck again was to be Stealth's story. Just two weeks ago they not only took pole but also won; now the team is on the 8th and 10th rows of the grid. The drivers are not to blame though, they are relatively new, and both of them team owners. Malisani if you remember entered his MolotovF1 team under the American banner and ironically enough he would make his debut in this US Grand Prix weekend. The other driver, 20 year old Willy Ponissi, is team boss and CEO of EIRE and well know to the established F1VWC.

Malisani eventually did a good debut job with the mighty BMW power behind, he sadly only showed a 16th place for his effort but he was happy with his lap: ‘I'm pleased with the car, its handling and speed, but that doesn't translate well into times.' Through the weekend they did not suffer any car problems and began to get used to the track and car. However, Mariano did have some issues with the second sector and lost some good time through this split; losing 0.5 seconds to Moir ahead in 15th. The track conditions were reported by all to be in top condition today and seemed to suit all.

It's been some 4 years of inactive competition for Mariano and in the end he did well dealing with the new regulations, cars, tracks and everything else that is hard to get used these days.

‘The situation is not easy; we haven't got a favorable grid slot but we're working hard with testing to maximize our opportunity.' – Mariano Malisani

Willy Ponissi self-described this weekend as: ‘The worst of my career.' It was pointed out by a fellow colleague of mine that indeed the Stealth guys must have put butter on his tyres as the car was all over the place. Through the practice sessions on Friday and early morning Saturday he was doing a good job, 14th having been his best in one of the sessions but as qualifying came under way it became apparent that the car was not working well on light fuel loads, a problem around this track. A combination of understeer, oversteer, an unbalance in the car, engine and hydraulic failures all combined to achieve 20th and some 4.6 seconds of EIRE's Kieran Ryan.

‘If the car is still ill handling then no, I don't think points will be my scenario, but you never know.' A quietly optimistic Willy Ponissi answers later to a question. We joined him in the motor home, and he didn't look to happy, but was he happy to be back in the car? With MCR Mercedes at this very grand prix last year he didn't manage much better, can he with his EIRE drive experience achieve better? Will he up his driver's points come the end of this 73 lap race: only god knows!

CEO boss Ted Cragg was truly happy enough realizing his driver's obstacles coming into qualifying. He described his driver's results as ‘admirable.' He gave some very inspirational comments: ‘There is no pressure, just race and do your best.'

However while above I have put across Stealth's bad weekend, all is not too bad. They have the chance to test drivers for this grand prix and the remaining one in Suzuka Japan in a couple of weeks time, and see how good the talent is, and by that make some decisions come 2003, an opportunity many top teams don't have. This tells us that perhaps Malisani's place along with Ponissi's is by no means secure for Japan, not to mention 2004.

The final words went to Ted: ‘Willy is only contracted for this race, we have many possibilities for Suzuka. Mariano is certain though.'

I hope Stealth can reap some rewards at the end of the race and try and test some fast drivers in advance of 2004, perhaps come Japan we may see a new driver, a top driver, maybe even a future world champion or a race winner. He did find Joe didn't he!

MAPES-VO HONDA

An Italian replicate for both Jakonen and Loukasmaki, 2nd and 4th and another good dual qualifying wrapped up by the Mapes team. Jakonen was just shaded by old teammate Kieran Ryan but accepted another good qualifying session. Petri had a good run in the second of the two Mapes to finish 4th in what would again be a let delivered time with the car.

Mikko Jakonen put in now what seems to be his usual result of 2nd place, describing the car as: ‘bloody fast!'; simple as that in the end. His lap was well timed with few racers on the track; everything went right and reported no problems to the Mapes pit wall. Despite a small error at turn 5 (just after split 1) he did managed 2nd fastest time.

For the race the Finn needs to deliver a win, a long overdue win in his books. He'll need a couple of cars between himself, Daniel and Shiro to keep a serious title shot come Japan in 2 weeks. ‘It will come down to being able to do an error-free race with a well set-up car and optimal pitstops; not an easy task, but not unrealistic.' Motivation is not an issue with him at the moment, despite not having won a grand prix amazingly enough since the Canadian Grand Prix some 3 months ago, not really world champion material, but again, he sets his sights high for a win come the end of the race. It will take a lot of resolve and energy to push through the race and make it as error free as can be.

Teammate Loukasmaki wrapped up the end of the 2nd row with another 4th place, but sadly yet again he was unavailable for comment. He fell ill at the end of the session, and retired into the Mapes-VO motor home and hasn't been seen since.

It was a good afternoon and weekend for the Finn; like his teammate he had no real problems with the car, except a recurring braking problem during Friday's early morning session which was easily enough solved. With an adapted setup from his teammate he was slowly but effectively on the ball and posted originally a 6th fastest time before finding an optimal setup which put him in 4th place just 0.002 ahead of Toby Lock. Having been faster through the first 2 sectors, he lost out on the straight to the Ferrari power but managed to hold his place in the end, just!

With the rumours of new launch control in the air, team boss Maple did little to deny this rumour : ‘We think we can get into the first corner first so we will see J.' In the end, he seemed very happy with a repeat qualifying from Italy and felt that the title chase will go down to the wire at Suzuka, as do I.

PHOENIX RENAULT

Shine! That's what they did, they shone. Both Colombian Antonio Irissari and Dutchman Jan Kelder performed beyond what they thought they'd get given their lack of bhp once again, but put all of this behind them and notched up 6th and 9th places on the grid, with Antonio finally getting the better of his older teammate Jan Kelder.

Through the session like most other drivers, the car performed well and they found an early balance through the Friday and Saturday sessions to post at one stage the fastest times in Friday. They both conferred and eventually found an ideal and suitable setup which suited both of them.

‘We were really surprised to put the top teams under pressure.' – Antonio Irissari.

Irissari ended up 6th on a 1m 09.588 just over half a second shy of pole and with a Holden behind him, that's a pretty good effort. Although Antonio did struggle initially with plank issues, having 2 of his fast laps during practice disallowed because of this, in the end, with the compromised setup he had this problem solved quickly, and immediately jumped from 10th to 6th in one swift move. In fact his 2nd sector was just 0.1 slower the Mikko's, so it shows that he lost a good deal of time down that straight.

In the end of the day he made his desires known to have no plank issue and finish ahead of those EIRE boys, we'll just have wait and see Antonio.

Jan Kelder sadly was unavailable for comment. He stole some early light when set the 7th fastest time before the eventual bumping down of places and slid to 9th but still an admirable place. He suffered most trouble in the 2nd sector losing 0.3s to his teammate, while in sector one, he was actually 0.1 faster! He had a good weekend despite this small problem and wrapped up the 5th row with American McConkey right beside him

Andy Graydon had high praise for his 2 drivers: ‘Excellent! within 0.12 of a second, equally matched, and both drivers within 0.75 of pole. I couldn't ask for more.'

Irissari has had some bad press recently but today he did managed to shake this off and produce a good qualifying slot which please team boss Andy Graydon, and maybe did some good to keep his seat in 2004. With the Driver's Championship in the balance between Shiro, Daniel and Mikko; there is still a battle brewing between the two mates Antonio and Jan. There's 2 points separating them - quite an internal battle!

‘They know what they need to do – they are fighting for 5th in the Drivers standings. If that doesn't motivate them, nothing will.' – Andy Graydon.

SIMSOA MERCEDES

A spell of bad luck plagued the Simsoa team in Italy, 2 dnf's, not a way to start a career. Much was expected in the US, but nothing materialized and both drivers had an average day and set the 18th and 19th fastest times, clearly both getting the best from the car; both Jeavons and George, setting times just 0.2s apart from each other.

David George gave it his best during the weekend to adapt to a track he never drove on before, having no real problems with the car besides some setup issues he was quite happy with his days work: ‘At the previous races I have qualified last so I am pleased that I am not last on the grid.'

Come race day he aims to finish higher up the race order then before, and with some sector times supporting this theory we shall hope and see can he in fact do this. ‘As long as I can get my car setup finely tuned we could show the true spirit.' This was a nice way the end a brief interview given to a fellow journalist.

Teammate and another debutant this year and this race, Simon Jeavons, who did manage a good weekend and a good setup to out qualify his teammate, despite having an obtuse looking car. Slipping and sliding, locking and unlocking his way to the 18th place on the grid, not bad for your debut. However, both these Simsoa cars are some way off their nearest competitor, in fact a whole second. Jeavons was unable to give any comments.

‘They are good but they just need to learn how to use the car to its full potential' said team boss Lawrence Simpson. Certain qualities attracted Lawrence to signing the young Jeavons over from the SFO league and see the driver scoring some points before the season is out; a tall feat with just 2 races to go and you're starting on your debut race!

SCUM HOLDEN

Spearheading their way to a Driver's Championship? This now is an unknown factor to Shiro Ryong. He has seen his lead tally slowly deplete in the last few races and we all know how agonizingly annoying that can be. In the end of the 60 minute session he slipped streamed his way past an EIRE on his slowing down lap to push himself into 8th place, just piping Jan Kelder for that place. Teammate Peter Harding had a good day and posted the 12th fastest time with no real issues affecting his session.

Shiro Ryong reported only incorrect wing settings being placed on his car at the beginning of the session, quite embarrassing for the SCUM team who are trying to win this championship. ‘Track conditions were good and the car was well balanced and easy to drive.'

With 73 long laps and 73 laps spending 1 mile of the track losing crucial time on the start/finish straight it is going to be difficult for any real top results as Shiro himself later put it: ‘I'll be scrapping for the lower points places again.' Although around this track, anything is a possibility.

Peter Harding (unavailable for comment) managed a good performance in his SCUM setting the 12th fastest time and only 0.9 slower than his potential champion teammate, is quite a good job, being under a lot of pressure. Despite some initial engine difficulties he settled into a comfortable rhythm and completed all of his laps in the session. He was the first out on track and the last too, setting the 16th fastest time at first but after some minor alterations this changed and he was able to snatch 12th right at the end!

NWO FERRARI

Debutants NWO Ferrari put on a good effort today and after MMC, they have to be the best debutants here this weekend. They set the 14th and 15th fastest times, separated by 1 tenth come the conclusion of the 60 minute session.

Both drivers set 4 laps but Matt Hunt was the first to blink and initially went 3rd fastest after 5 minutes. He had some minor problems with gearbox maladies, turning into an engine failure in the end, covering the track with a thick cloud of smoke, prompting Wilkinson to spin off on one of his flyers. The spare was set up for him and even with the engine difference he did manage the 14th fastest time, and just under 2 seconds off pole, with the slowest engine of them all, only 790 reputed bhp, not a good unit but some good talent steering it.

Teammate Moir reported some slippery track conditions and a lack of speed due to a last minute setup alteration: ‘The car was very slippery in the slower corners of the track; maybe I took off too much wing.' An error into turn 11 for sure ended a really good slot when he braked way too early and lost a good bit of speed.

The two teammates get on well and were seen having a good laugh sharing some data. Apparently they were joining the dots to some amusing drawing however Matt would not let us see.

The two NWO's start in 14th and 15th places, respectively on the 7th and 8th rows. Points are a sure possibility – but then again, the whole field wants those 8 places of points, 73 laps will decided who will get them.

MY ANALYSIS

I would be quite sure and, no disrespect to Shiro, that the championship will indeed go to the wire with all current parties involved and that's very good for the league. Who will win it, I don't know, but it will be very close in Japan.

The US Grand Prix produced a 2nd, 7th and 8th placed slots for the contenders, not ideal for a spectacular race, but the prospect can changed. We've seen Daniel fly from 6th places before and reach 2nd place by the end of a lap before a bullet leaves a gun, but I think he will have more trouble here. His teammate is going very well here this weekend, and will not easily be beaten without a good decent fight to be fought. I can see a competitive 3 stopper being used here, to give him the speed he will need to fly through the grid, and this is also likely for Shiro, who lacks the bhp but gains the knowledge of how to plan a strategy.

A 4 stopper is not a fast route to take. The stop in total from in and out of the pit lane with take about 26-28 seconds, depending on the pitstop strategy, while the rivals are going 200km plus down the straight, you're only going 80km, so in the end it will be slower. I can see Shiro using a 3 stopper to good advantage and perhaps holding onto Daniel along the way.

Mikko Jakonen has run 2 stoppers for while now, and I see no change. He's in 2nd again but separated from this battle, he needs a win to capitalise on the situation, to give his championship hopes a real try. Perhaps a 3 stopper would be best suited to clear traffic and set fast laps in hopes of a win.

Maple and Lock are the real jokers in the pack of 20. They have nothing to lose and all to gain. The rest have real targets and people to help while they can race as they like, and are certain to mix it up with the top 6. A 3 stopper is wise from their view to keep all in their sights, and really hope to come between contenders.

98, 89 and 88 are the point's situation in the championship, it can all be over after 73 laps, but I fear not. Japan in 2 weeks will decide the winner of the 2003 crown. Indianapolis decided the constructors last year and most likely will again rule in favour of yellow here, but who will rule in favour of them twice, is it that possible, that conceivable? Well, only time can unlock that question!

Kieran Ryan 00 51hrs GMT

Italian GP Reports