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Michael is race favourite.

Byline: Grand Prix

Fernando Alonso expects a tough time in Sunday's United States Grand Prix, despite heading to Indianapolis on the back of four straight wins.

The world champion dominated in Canada last weekend as he had at Spain, Monaco and Silverstone beforehand, building up a healthy 25-point championship lead.

However, the Renault driver admits he has always struggled to find the perfect set-up at Indianapolis, a track which his title rival Michael Schumacher has generally made his own.

Alonso said: "I am not too confident. We never got the right set-up at Indianapolis in the last three years.

"I don't know why but it has always been a difficult circuit for us. So I expect a tough race again.

"It seems that this year the competition is between Ferrari and us so why not think about the podium?

"But Indianapolis is another chance to win again and to increase the gap again."

Schumacher is typically bullish about his chances but expects tyres to play a key part in a race last year which was marred but a 14-car pull-out over dangerous rubber.

A repeat of Michelin's problems is unlikely but Schumacher believes their performance in comparison to those of his own Bridgestone tyres could still be influential.

The Ferrari driver, who was a fortunate second in Montreal, said: "It all depends on the tyre situation. On the car side we know what we had for last weekend. We struggled a little bit.

"We managed to keep the damage as small as possible and get them to work at the end, but we need to see how much they suit this kind of circuit.

"That's what we're going to see towards the end of the season that one manufacturer will be better equipped at one circuit and the other at another.

"Obviously we have to make sure that we have the majority of that."

Schumacher has struggled to match Alonso for most of the year, winning just two races to the Spaniard's six, but he is still enjoying the battle.

The seven-time world champion lost his crown to Alonso last year after Ferrari slipped well off the pace, so he is relishing a better chance to put the young pretender in his place.

He said: "Last year was, to a certain degree, frustrating. This year we are having fun.

"Not all the time - I mean you can be having more fun in winning, but you can't win all the time so the better one wins who is doing a better job in the end and we have only been able to do that twice.

"There have been six times for them so far so we need to do a better job."

* SAM Hornish Jr dominated the SunTrust Indy Challenge at Richmond International Raceway to record his 16th career Indy Racing League victory.

Hornish, this year's Indianapolis 500 winner, took the lead on lap 39 and never looked back, crossing the finish line under caution on lap 250 ahead of Brazil's Vitor Meira.

Scotland's Dario Franchitti was third, followed by Connecticut's Scott Sharp and Marco Andretti of Pennsylvania. England's Dan Wheldon finished ninth.
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Geographic Code:4EUFR
Date:Jun 29, 2006
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