The United States Grand Prix marks the penultimate round of the 2003 FIA Formula One World Championship.

Team McLaren Mercedes arrives at the prestigious Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Kimi Raikkonen lying in a strong third position in the drivers standings, with 75 points.

Following the Italian Grand Prix, positions at the top of both championships remain close. Just seven points cover the first three drivers, with a maximum of 20 points remaining to be won this season.

Team McLaren Mercedes also lies in third position in the Constructors' championship with 120 points and David Coulthard is in seventh position with 45.

Raikkonen was forced to settle for a fourth place finish at the Italian GP two weeks ago, and while that result was disappointing, the Finn remains in a good position and confident that Indy will suit the MP4-17D, better than Monza.

"Monza is not the track where we are the strongest and so I did the best I could do and our performance was not too bad considering," said Raikkonen, "I am now looking forward to the US Grand Prix, where the characteristics of the MP4-17D will be more suited to the track than Monza, and we should perform better there.

"I need to get a good result as we are now at such a crucial stage of the Championship, and I will be driving flat out to try and achieve this. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has two very different sections and therefore a good mix of challenges.

"You go from the super fast banked corner and long straight into the twisty infield section, which leads to a compromise with set-up for the car to maximise performance over the entire lap. Although we drive in the usual clock-wise direction for Formula One, we race in the opposite direction to normal when the entire oval is used."

Team-mate David Coulthard meanwhile looked set to finish fifth in Italy until a loss of fuel pressure on lap 45 forced him to retire. The Scot though has a good record at Indy, finishing third in 2001 and fifth in 2000, and following a strong test last week is confident he can go well.

"After our fuel pump drive failure with eight laps to go at Monza, we spent two days testing at Barcelona and it proved to be a positive session for the team," noted DC, "Although Indy has some unique characteristics, primarily the banking, it also has similarities with the Circuit de Catalunya, for example the long main straight and range of corners. Therefore we have been able to conduct some race set-up work alongside our development programme.

"I always enjoy the United States Grand Prix, we are racing at such an historic venue, and have the animated atmosphere of the Indianapolis crowd, who are real racing enthusiasts. It is therefore fantastic that Formula One arrives at the Motor Speedway with both Championships so delicately poised. It is probably going to be a very gripping race weekend, which should befit this enthusiasm and demonstrate to America how exciting a sport Formula One is. The last couple of years I have finished on the podium, which I am aiming to repeat this year."

Martin Whitmarsh, McLaren's managing director, added: "Team McLaren Mercedes arrives in America for the penultimate Grand Prix of the season still very much in contention for the Drivers' Championship with Kimi. Of course following Monza this task has been made more difficult, but the Championships remain finely balanced.

"We are now fully focused on optimising our performances at both Indy and Suzuka, and more specifically in the short term on Kimi taking the best result possible at the Motor Speedway, where we believe we will be more competitive. We have had a positive preparation for the race and are now looking forward to this next stage of the 2003 season's enthralling Championship battle. The McLaren marque has a long history in America, having taken Indy 500 and CAN-AM titles over the years, the most recent success being Mika Hakkinen's emotional final career victory in 2001."

Norbert Haug, vice president, Mercedes-Benz Motorsport, concluded: "The US Grand Prix will be a crucial race for the outcome of the World Championship with the top three drivers covered by just seven points and a maximum of 20 points still at stake for each of them. The combination of the 1.7 kilometres long oval section with the slow and tricky infield makes the Indianapolis Grand Prix circuit a real challenge for the chassis, the engine and the tyres.

"One unique feature of the circuit layout is its long high speed part of 23 seconds of uninterrupted full throttle. In total 55 percent of the lap are run on full throttle. To race at Indianapolis is something very special for Formula One. Indy is the 'Capital of Motor Racing' as it calls itself, and we are looking forward to an exciting race in front of a huge crowd and hundreds of millions of television viewers worldwide who keep their fingers crossed for at least one of the three championship contenders, Michael [Schumacher], Juan Pablo [Montoya] and Kimi."



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