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FITTIPALDI, AS USUAL, WILL BE DRIVING HARD

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Emerson Fittipaldi not only knows what it takes to win a race, he also knows the best way to start one.

The beginning of the Indianapolis 500 presents the most stressful and dangerous moments to the drivers trying to get into the rhythm of a long event.Sunday, as usual, it will be 33 race cars, buffeted by extreme turbulence, accelerating to more than 220 mph on the main straightaway and trying to squeeze through the narrow first and second turns in a matter of seconds.

A year ago, the turns on the 21/2-mile oval were narrowed by eliminating the apron at the bottom of the banked track and replacing it with grass and a narrow concrete rumblestrip that sounds a loud warning when a car ventures onto it.

"I think one of the most difficult things I experienced last year is going to happen again this year," Fittipaldi said. "When you hit traffic with the new configuration . . . you'll be in the turbulence of the guy ahead of you and you're going to lose the downforce.

"You're going to lose the front end of the car, and that's going to be a fight that will have to be fought the whole race. Not just myself, but all the drivers. And I think the toughest part of the race, trying to follow someone close enough that you can come out of the corner and have a run on them and pass before the next corner."

Fittipaldi, a two-time Formula One champion and the 1989 IndyCar PPG Cup winner, won the Indy 500 in 1989 and again last year. Sunday, he will start from the outside of the front row, the third-best qualifying position in the lineup.

The pole-winner has the most victories, 14, in the 77 Indy races, followed by second place with 10 wins and third with nine. But a driver starting in the middle of the front row has not won since Mario Andretti in 1969.

Al Unser Jr., Fittipaldi's teammate is on the pole Sunday, with Raul Boesel alongside.

Asked what would happen at the start of the race, Fittipaldi said jokingly, "They will let the man on the outside of the front row lead into the first turn."

Once it starts, Fittipaldi knows precisely how he wants to approach the biggest race of the season.

"What goes on in my mind on race day is that trying to keep the car as consistent as you can from lap one to the end of the race," the Brazilian said.

"A lot of people think that driving Indianapolis, you have to drive easy to finish the race. But I never did."

The 47-year-old Fittipaldi has won this race twice with late moves that were a direct result of hard driving.

In 1989, he and Unser, then on different teams, went wheel-to-wheel into the first turn two laps from the end. The two bumped wheels, Unser spun into the wall and Fittipaldi went on to take the checkered flag.

Last year, Fittipaldi took advantage of Nigel Mansell's lack of oval experience on a restart late in the race and easily won Indy for the second time.

"It's a 500-mile race, but you drive it hard from lap one to the last lap," Fittipaldi said.