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USGP Saturday Notebook
Sunday's United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway is a crucial race for Ferrari driver Kimi Raikkonen's championship challenge.

After the third race of the year, Raikkonen, who won the season-opening Australian Grand Prix, was tied for the lead of the FIA Formula One World Championship with Vodafone McLaren-Mercedes teammates Fernando Alonso and Lewis Hamilton.

But three races later, Raikkonen dropped to fourth place in the standings and is 21 points behind championship leader Hamilton. Raikkonen's goal is to earn as many points as possible Sunday and win the United States Grand Prix.

"Every point is important," said Raikkonen, who starts tomorrow's race from fourth on the grid, "but it all depends on what the other people will do in the races. So we try to do the best race (in Indianapolis) and score as many points as we can, and hopefully we can win the race and that will help us."

Despite only scoring five points in the last three races, Raikkonen remains motivated and focused on the championship.

"Sometimes you have difficult moments in racing and the championship," he said. "It is not the first time for me. You just need to be patient and work hard and try to get everything right. So it is not too late yet, and we try to get back there."

It's not as bad as it looks: Scott Speed qualified his Toro Rosso Ferrari 20th for his home Grand Prix of the United States. But Speed, America's only F1 driver, said the car will perform better in the race than it did in qualifying, and he believes he can make up ground.

"We know we have worse acceleration than all of the guys in front of us," he said. "The only possible way we can race is to take off all of the wing. Certainly, in the infield, we're sliding around more than everyone else.

"I think maybe we can have a race car that we can possibly do something with. So far this weekend we've had great reliability. Hopefully that will continue. I think we were worse off than we expected. We knew this track was going to hurt us because of the gearbox.

"We're a bit surprised that we're as far down in the order as we are. But in actuality, our pace isn't that much slower than the guys in front of us. Being fast down the straightaway, I think we'll have something we can race with tomorrow.

"It's not near as bad as it looks after qualifying because we're fast down the straightaway. Hopefully we'll get a bit lucky in the race, and something can happen. Points would be big."

Indy fans motivate Hamilton: On his cool-down laps at the end of practice and qualifying, Lewis Hamilton took time to wave to the fans around the 13-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway F1 circuit. He said he received energy from the fans' support, and he appreciates the support the fans gave all 22 F1 drivers competing in the United States Grand Prix.

"You exit the garage, and you see everyone stand up and give you a clap," he said. "I appreciate all their support, and I appreciate them coming and supporting everyone here.

"It is nothing for me on my in lap (to) give everyone a wave. I am sure it makes them all happy. I get a lot of energy from all the crowd."

Rookie starts seventh in F1 debut: Sebastian Vettel, 19, qualified his BMW Sauber seventh for his F1 race debut in the United States Grand Prix.

F1 goes oval racing: In a night of fun sponsored by Alpinestars, members of the F1 fraternity had a chance get a taste of grassroots American racing this week when they attended an event at the Indianapolis Speedrome oval near the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Former F1 drivers Martin Brundle, Ivan Capelli, Jacques Laffite, Tommy Byrne and David Kennedy tried their hand at midget racing on the short paved oval.

Alonso hopes for change of luck: Two-time World Champion Fernando Alonso has never had much luck in the United States Grand Prix. In six starts, he has only finished the race once when crossed the line in fifth place last year driving for Renault.

He starts this year's race from the front row in his McLaren-Mercedes and is looking more competitive at the Indianapolis track than he has in the past.

"I hope it was the Renault car and not me," he said of his past USGP performances. "It has been a very difficult race for me always here in the States. I had quite unlucky races. I only finished once, last year, and only fifth. So hopefully (that is because) the Renault performance was not great here in the past."

Easy rider: Panasonic Toyota driver Jarno Trulli commutes between the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and his hotel on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.

2007 USGP tickets: Reserved Race Day tickets for the 2007 United States Grand Prix on June 17 are on sale to all customers.

Ticket information can be found any time at www.indianapolismotorspeedway.com or by calling the IMS Ticket Office at (800) 822-4639 or (317) 492-6700.

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