Vancouver, British Columbia -- A typical rookie in the CART FedEx Championship Series would be more than satisfied if, following the 15th race of the season, he had six victories, five pole positions, 856 laps led, eight podium finishes, the...
Vancouver, British Columbia -- A typical rookie in the CART FedEx Championship Series would be more than satisfied if, following the 15th race of the season, he had six victories, five pole positions, 856 laps led, eight podium finishes, the rookie of the year award and the PPG points lead. Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's Juan Montoya is not a typical rookie.
Team Target's 23-year-old Colombian driver is proud of his numerous accomplishments in his initial CART season, but with just five races remaining, Montoya is ignoring all but one of his impressive numbers -- his PPG Cup championship point total of 172.
Entering the Molson Indy Vancouver, Montoya's lead over second-place driver Dario Franchitti stands at four points, a little too close according to Montoya, who is attempting to clinch Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's unprecedented fourth consecutive PPG Cup championship.
"This season has been much more than I, or anyone on the team, could have expected," said Montoya, who is attempting to win three straight races for the second time this season. "But we now realize we have a chance to make history, so the team is committed to earning as many points as we can in each race to see if we can make that dream a reality.
Vancouver is a challenge because it's another of the courses I've never seen before. I think because the track has reconfigured since last year, the other rookies and I will have an advantage since we're not used to the old layout. I'm looking forward to flying through the streets of Vancouver and hopefully increasing our lead in the points."
History is definitely on Target/Chip Ganassi Racing's side as it returns to Vancouver. A Team Target driver has either won in Vancouver or finished on the podium every year since 1995. Jimmy Vasser finished second in 1995, Alex Zanardi took the checkered flag in 1996 and 1997 and last year Zanardi finished third and clinched his team's third consecutive PPG Cup championship.
"Vancouver has certainly been a special race for us over the past few years," said Team Target owner Chip Ganassi. "It would be nice to be heading into the race this year with a chance to clinch again, but these last five races should be exciting and a lot of fun for the fans."
Montoya isn't the only Team Target driver who has been on a roll lately. Vasser, who clinched the team's first CART championship in 1996, has finished ninth or better in five straight races and in the top five the past three races.
"This is an exciting time of year," Vasser said. "Our team knows what it's like to be in this position, with so much riding on each race. I've learned over these first 15 races that Juan is as tough mentally as he is physically. He's in a good position and he knows I'm here if he's looking for advice. The whole team has a great attitude going into Vancouver. We were excited to be back on the podium in Chicago and we plan on returning a few times again before the end of the year. Juan and I have had a nice string of races and we want to keep it up at the Molson Indy."
With so much riding on the final five races of the year, a driver experiencing his first CART championship chase might also experience a case of butterflies. Not Montoya. "I'm having too much fun to feel nervous," Montoya said. "No one expected me to be doing this well so soon, so I don't feel any pressure.
I'm a rookie, I have nothing to lose."
Not even close to a typical rookie.