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Pit timing is margin of win at French GP

Defending Formula One champion Michael Schumacher used superior pit-stop strategy to beat pole-sitter Damon Hill by 31.3 seconds Sunday in the French Grand Prix.

The margin of victory for Schumacher, driving a Benetton-Renault, was in large measure determined by the timing of his stops. Both Schumacher and Hill, who drove a Williams-Renault, came in twice. But Hill experienced ensuing traffic problems and was unable to catch up.

"Pit stops take away the frustration of driving from behind," said Schumacher, who went ahead after the first stop and was not challenged thereafter.

David Coulthard was third in a Williams-Renault, just ahead of Martin Brundle in a Ligier-Mugen. Jean Alesi was fifth in a Ferrari.

Hill and Schumacher battled within a half-second of each other for the first 19 of 72 laps over the 2.641-mile circuit.

The race changed when Schumacher made his first pit stop, giving Hill the lead. He came in two laps later but lost seven seconds in the exchange of stops.

Then Hill hit traffic.

"I could have stopped one or two laps earlier while Michael had it clear," Hill said. "It only cost me a couple seconds, but that is a couple more seconds given to him."

Schumacher started extending the lead from there, lapping about a half-second faster than Hill.

"There wasn't much I could do," Hill said. "He was quicker, and he won hands down."

Schumacher said he didn't have to abuse the car to win.

"I have never had a car handle that well on a circuit as it did today," he said.

The advantage was up to 16.8 seconds before the two exchanged stops after 43 laps. This time Hill was able to knock two seconds off the lead, but it was not enough to transform the race back into a real contest.

Schumacher averaged 115.806 mph in a race that took 1 hour, 38 minutes, 28.429 seconds. His 14th career victory gave him 46 points in the driver standings, to 35 for second-place Hill.

It was the third straight second-place finish in the race for Hill, who also had the pole for the third year in a row.

"I guess I am in a rut," he said.

After a week of sunny weather, there was a heavy rain in the morning. The track dried in time for the start, but rain fell briefly during the 43rd lap.

Jarrett answers critics

MILWAUKEE _ Dale Jarrett, struggling on the NASCAR Winston Cup circuit, edged Larry Pearson by 0.43 seconds to win the Busch Grand National Series' Sears Auto Centers 250.

"A win is a win," said Jarrett, who led the final 78 laps in the 250-lap race on the mile track. "I haven't thought I've been the problem in this car or the Winston Cup car, so maybe this will silence some people.

"We don't run many of these races, and it's tough to beat the regulars. This feels good and gives me confidence."

Jarrett, who averaged 95.379 mph in his Ford for his first Grand National victory since 1991, started from the rear of the field after Wisconsin driver Jim Sauter qualified the car Saturday while Jarrett was in Daytona Beach for the Pepsi 400 NASCAR Winston Cup race.

Jeff Green finished third and Dennis Setzer fourth. Series leader Johnny Benson crashed on Lap 160 and finished 33rd. Little was eighth, to move within 76 points.