RACING NOTEBOOK: Youngsters come up big in Indy

Tim Cronin

Youth was served not only at the front of the field Sunday.

While 22-year-old Lewis Hamilton was winning the 8th United States Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, 19-year-old Sebastian Vettel finished eighth, becoming the youngest point-scorer in Formula One history.

Vettel picked up one point for himself and the BMW Sauber crew, remarkable considering he didn’t know he’d be running in his first F1 race until teammate Robert Kubica was ruled out by doctors Thursday afternoon, the result of his accident last week in Montreal.

“Let’s do another race,” Vettel kidded. “No, I’m quite exhausted.”

He should have been. Vettel was in the middle of a pack all afternoon, trading places occasionally. For him, just getting through the start was important.

“When I saw the cars were close, I decided to brake just a little bit later,” he said. “I decided to cut Turn 2 and lost a lot of places.”

A crash behind him caused by Ralf Schumacher - his fourth in seven races at IMS - took out Rubens Barrichello and David Coulthard, but Vettel cruised on, regaining all but one place by day’s end.

“It’s extremely difficult to overtake here, as the other guys are not sleeping and they know how to defend,” Vettel said.

Now Vettel likely returns to the sideline. Kubica is expected to be cleared to drive in France in two weeks, which would put Vettel back in the position of being the test driver.

George optimistic

Speedway president Tony George emerged from Saturday’s meeting with Formula One impresario Bernie Ecclestone more optimistic than he had been that the F1 circus will return to the track next year and beyond.

“I hope we’ll be able to announce soon that we’ll be continuing, but probably not this weekend,” George told WISH-TV after emerging from Ecclestone’s office. “We want to know where we are. We can’t just keep chasing the unknown.”

George set a July 12 deadline for a deal. The Speedway would like to set its 2008 schedule beyond the Indianapolis 500 and Brickyard 400 as soon as possible. It may include a motorcycle race for the first time since the track opened in 1909.

Unlike the case with the Indianapolis 500, which George’s Indy Racing League controls, George’s track pays a hefty sanctioning fee to F1, for which Ecclestone controls the schedule. It’s believed George is paying around $10 million, trying to turn a profit on ticket sales, concessions and merchandise. (The race itself is run by the FIA.)

Additionally, Ecclestone has gotten feelers from other sites around the world seeking a race and willing to spend up to $35 million for a government-backed sanctioning fee.

“They certainly have a lot of great opportunities they’re trying to balance and factor into their future,” George said. “This needs to be a great opportunity for them to succeed. It’s not just about the city of Indianapolis and the economic impact. It would be a terrible thing to lose it, but there’s more to it than just that. From our standpoint, from Formula One's standpoint.

“We want the community to embrace it, and we want to give it the kind of attention it deserves.”

Sunday’s crowd was estimated at about 85,000, based on the Indianapolis Star’s seating charts and a visual survey of the grandstands and spectator mounds. That’s the smallest gathering for the Grand Prix since it started here in 2000. That one sold out the approximately 203,000 seats made available. In contrast, the first Indianapolis 500, in 1911, drew 80,000 spectators.

Around Gasoline Alley

American Scott Speed finished 13th, two laps down. ... Takuma Sato, who spun out on the 14th lap, was slapped with a 10-place starting-position penalty for the next race, in France on July 1, for passing under a yellow. ... The first-lap crash was the third in the last four years to knock cars out of the race.

Hamilton is the first rookie to win the U.S. Grand Prix at Indy and the second-youngest major race winner, 81 days older than 1952 Indy 500 winner Troy Ruttman. ... Bobby Wilson of Oconomowoc, Wis., won the Indy Pro Series race Sunday morning, beating series leader Alex Lloyd to the finish line by 10.5 seconds. Lloyd had finished second to rookie Hideki Mutoh in Saturday’s 18-lapper. ... Work on rearranging the track for oval racing started immediately after the race. The Brickyard 400 stock-car race is July 29.

More racing coverage can be found online at