Kimi Raikkonen did all he could to ensure that the Formula One title fight goes to Japan as a three-way contest, after taking pole position for the penultimate round of the season at Indianapolis.

Against expectation, the Finn put his McLaren-Mercedes in prime position for Sunday's race, while his two main rivals - Juan Montoya and Michael Schumacher - took fourth and seventh places respectively.

Raikkonen was among those who did not realistically feel that pole was within his grasp, primarily because he had had so little running after sitting out the first of the morning's free practice sessions while waiting for the track to dry sufficiently to require dry weather tyres. Despite that loss of track time, however, the Finn, who remains the outsider for the title, would up with a lap faster than anyone else could manage as his Michelins came good.

"I'm obviously very pleased for the whole team that we managed to get pole position today - it's quite an important one, and the fact that my two championship contenders are a bit further down can only be good for the battle," he said, "We haven't done as much running as we would have liked but, nevertheless, I felt very comfortable in the car during my qualifying lap. I think the session was exciting to watch for the fans around the world, and we want this race to be the same."

Despite his joy at taking pole, however, Raikkonen remained calm about his chances in the race.

"I believe we can put in a strong performance tomorrow too, but it's a long race and anything can happen," he said, "At least we are starting from the best spot. It is safer to start from the first two rows than further behind, where you can more easily have an accident or things can wrong. But it is a long race, and you don't know what the other teams are doing with the pit-stops, so we have to wait and see. But it looks quite good just now...."

Montoya lines up on the outside of the second row, frustrated that handling gremlins, induced by a change in conditions, compromised the set-up of his Williams-BMW.

"My first sector was okay, but I had quite a bit of oversteer in the second and third sectors and this wasn't ideal, as I lost about three-tenths there," the Colombian explained, "We could have done a little bit better, but that's what we've got and I am still confident we will have a good race ahead of us."

If crowd noise during his run was an indicator of success, Montoya would have the title already sewn up by now, such was the volume whenever he ventured out.

"I would really like to please all the South American fans who have come here to support me, but it's interesting to see Kimi up there, instead of Michael. Kimi is always full of surprises!" he smiled.

Schumacher was another who appeared to have a difficult car when it really mattered and, like Raikkonen, he could point to an interrupted morning as a possible cause for a less than perfect qualifying session.

"This was a very average session for me and, naturally, I am not at all satisfied with the way it went," the world champion sighed, "I am not clear what was going on, but the car was sliding too much and I could not find any grip.

"In terms of the championship, my closest rival is only three places ahead of me, so this is not a complete disaster and, with Kimi on pole, the title race is a bit more open now. At least seventh place is on the clean side of the track, which is better than being on the dirty inside line. I will be interested to see what strategy the others have adopted for the race."



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