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Lone American Bides Time in Formula One

Times Staff Writer

The good news for Scott Speed is that his rookie year as a Formula One driver is playing out as he expected. That’s also the bad news.

The Manteca, Calif., native became the first American driver in Formula One in more than a decade, fulfilling his childhood goal of competing in the glamorous racing series.

But Speed, 23, also knew when the season began that his car -- prepared by his Scuderia Toro Rosso team -- would be no match for the machines driven by reigning titleholder Fernando Alonso, seven-time champion Michael Schumacher and Formula One’s other top drivers.

He was right. Speed has struggled to run near the front through the first nine races of the season. He’s 17th in the standings and does not have a single championship point -- his main goal for this year -- as he prepares for Sunday’s U.S. Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

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But Speed isn’t complaining. He’s coming off his best finish of the year, a 10th last Sunday in the Grand Prix of Canada at Montreal, and is enjoying the reception from U.S. fans.

“I’m severely shocked about how much support we have here, it’s amazing,” he said Friday after posting practice times that were in the middle of the pack.

Qualifying for the race is today.

Speed said his high and low points of the year so far occurred the same day, at the Australian Grand Prix in April. Formula One awards points to the top eight finishers in each race, and Speed placed eighth that day, earning his first point.

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He was ecstatic. But after the race, officials penalized him for passing during a caution period, a setback Speed exacerbated by using “abusive language” during a post-race hearing. His No. 21 STR Cosworth was dropped to 11th and his point was snatched away. Speed said he had to stand his ground, rookie or not.

“As soon as you move over and let somebody take advantage of you, the whole field will,” Speed said. “You’ll have that reputation for life. Especially in motor racing, you have to be the intimidator, you have to be aggressive.”

Speed said his team knows it doesn’t have the resources to match the top contenders.

“For us to briefly get a point in Australia was like winning the championship,” he said.

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Speed reiterated his preseason prediction that he won’t win any time soon.

“It’s certainly not something that’s going to happen this year,” he said. “I think it’s more of a three-year program.”

Regardless, the American has been accepted into the fraternity of Formula One drivers, said Australian Mark Webber, who drives for the Williams team.

“He’s done a pretty good job of driving,” Webber said Friday, adding that Speed’s confident -- some would say cocky -- and fearless personality isn’t an issue.

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“I’m not interested in how he carries himself,” Webber said, “only that he can drive.”

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Teams used Friday’s practice mostly to fine-tune cars and weren’t preoccupied with having the fastest lap. But the quickest included Ferrari’s Schumacher, Alonso’s Renault teammate Giancarlo Fisichella and Tiago Monteiro of MF1 Racing.

“The situation looks pretty good, which means we can tackle the rest of the weekend with confidence,” said the German-born Schumacher, a four-time winner of the race.

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Referring to Germany’s victory over Argentina in the World Cup soccer tournament, he added: “Let’s say I had more problems trying to watch the quarterfinals on television than I did in the cockpit.”


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