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Formula One hoping for return to Indianapolis

Written by: Staff

INDIANAPOLIS, July 3 (Reuters) Formula One left Indianapolis today, hoping for a return next year but knowing its future in America remains in doubt.

The US Grand Prix, a race that disintegrated into a six-car fiasco in 2005, attracted an estimated 130,000 fans yesterday as Ferrari's Michael Schumacher roared to a record fifth victory at the Brickyard.

Yesterday's chequered flag also signalled the end of the current contract and the start of tough negotiations between Formula One supremo Bernie Ecclestone and Indianapolis Motor Speedway owner Tony George.

Ecclestone set the stage for what could be stormy talks when he said last week that the sport did not need a race in the United States.

However the F1 ringmaster was all smiles on Sunday as he patrolled the paddock, telling reporters he was hopeful a new agreement could be reached.

''We're going to try (to do a deal to come back next year),'' Ecclestone said. ''It's a case of getting things sorted out with Tony. It's got to be good for everybody.'' The cause was certainly aided by a successful week that culminated in Schumacher leading Brazilian team mate Felipe Massa across the line in a hugely popular one-two Ferrari finish.

The applause from the stands was in sharp contrast to a year ago, when Schumacher's hollow victory was greeted with boos and debris tossed at the track after the Michelin-equipped teams withdrew for tyre safety reasons.

PROPER RACE ''I think for the people it was very nice,'' Massa said.

''They came here last year and didn't really see a proper race...

This year, they saw the show and for sure they are really happy.'' Teams up and down the paddock made clear that they want to keep the race on the calendar and so too did American motor racing fans.

Normally reclusive drivers did their part to help the race rebound from last year's disaster, taking part in promotions and autograph sessions.

The fans responded to the charm offensive, with an estimated 250,000 passing through the turnstiles over three days.

Michelin, who bore the brunt of last year's debacle, offered refunds and purchased 20,000 tickets to be given away in a buy two get one free deal to those who attended last year.

Lisa Toth and Melahni Ake were two such fans who happily took advantage of the offer and were more than willing to forgive and forget.

''I've only lived here a few years but F1 is the only race I come to,'' the Ferrari T-shirt-clad Toth said.

''I was disappointed but I wasn't angry.

''As things went on we kind of thought something might happen but they didn't explain it very well. But how can you not love Michael Schumacher?'' REUTERS PM KN1342

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