IRL: Indy 500: Juan Montoya could be next Colombian superstar at Indy

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, April 10, 2000 -- Roberto Guerrero set the benchmark for Colombians driving in the Indianapolis 500. But there wasn't another driver from the South American country on the horizon in 1984 to challenge those...

INDIANAPOLIS, Monday, April 10, 2000 -- Roberto Guerrero set the benchmark for Colombians driving in the Indianapolis 500. But there wasn't another driver from the South American country on the horizon in 1984 to challenge those marks. Now a new millennium has arrived, and so has a brave young newcomer from Colombia. Juan Pablo Montoya, native of Bogota, Colombia, will make his debut at Indy as part of Chip Ganassi's two-driver entry in this year's race. Montoya, as a 23-year-old replacement for two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi, won Target/Ganassi Racing's fourth straight CART series title last season. "For me as a driver, I'm just going to come here and try to win," he said. "I think the team is prepared to give 100 percent and win the race." If his first day on the track is any indication, Montoya is a contender to be the first rookie to win the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill in 1996. Montoya turned a lap of 219.780 mph April 10, the second fastest of the day. It was his first day of testing ever at Indy. It would take a victory for Montoya to surpass Guerrero's achievements at Indy. That's the only thing that Guerrero is missing. Guerrero, now 41 and a naturalized American citizen, nearly won his first Indianapolis 500, a spin in Turn 2 on Lap 154 dropping him out of contention behind winner Rick Mears. But his second-place finish earned him a share of the Bank One Rookie of the Year award with Michael Andretti. He then placed third, fourth and second again in his next three races. A stall in his pit on his final stop in 1987 allowed Al Unser to get the lead and become a four-time race winner. At the top of his game, Guerrero was injured in a September 1987 practice crash at the Speedway. Still, he came back to set the one- and four-lap qualifying marks (since eclipsed by Arie Luyendyk) in 1992 of 232.618 and 232.482 mph and added a fifth-place finish in 1996. "He's obviously already done very, very well," Guerrero said of Montoya. "Ganassi has a great team. I'm sure he will have great equipment (G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone). I think that he will adapt very quickly." Montoya and Roberto's younger brother Jaime grew up and raced together in Colombia. Their fathers, Roberto Guerrero Sr. and Pablo Montoya, are best friends. Guerrero hopes to drive in his 15th Indianapolis 500 in May, making it possible that two Colombians will start the race. "That would be great," Guerrero said. "All the years I've been (in the race) there never was much chance for another Colombian driver to be at Indy until Juan came along. He's amazing. I thought it would never happen until I was gone." Montoya's only trip around the Speedway before his first laps today came in the tour bus last January when he came to be fitted for his seat. "I used to watch some races here and everything," he said. "It's interesting. A lot of people come in to a single event, so I'm sure it's going to be very exciting on race day. "It's different from Formula One and stuff like that. You don't have (pre-race) warm-ups. You just go straight to the race. So it's going to be fun." Montoya is taking a wait-and-see attitude about the race. It'll be his first time in an Indy Racing Northern Light Series normally aspirated car. "It will be very nice for my record to see if I can come here and win," he said. Montoya was selected by Ganassi to take over for Zanardi, who had won two straight championships. The youngster responded beautifully, winning seven races and seven poles and scoring the same amount of points (212) as Dario Franchitti. Montoya was declared champion because he had more victories. Ganassi knew little about Montoya when he flew to Barcelona, Spain, in late 1998 to check out the champion of the European F3000 series. "They said he was a good driver," Ganassi said. "He was better looking than Zanardi. "With somebody in our position, you're always looking for somebody who's young, who's hungry. A lot of times in this business when you walk in as the owner of the car that won the last championship you have these guys who are kind of falling all over you and everything. I kind of liked him because he couldn't have given a damn who I was when I met him. He just wanted to race, and that's what I liked about him." The Target/Chip Ganassi Racing tandem veteran Jimmy Vasser and the young Montoya is a nice blend and a team owner's dream, Ganassi said. "You have the tried and true on your right and the young whippersnapper on your left," he said. "It kind of gives you the best of both worlds when you come into an event like this." Coming to Indy is special for Montoya because it provides another challenge. He notes that the team must fly from Japan after the CART race there on May 13 to Indianapolis and be prepared to qualify on Pole Day May 20. Then the team will race May 27 - the day before the Indianapolis 500 - in a CART event at Nazareth, Pa., that was snowed out April 9. "It'll be very hard, but still I don't think that's going to be an excuse for not going quick," he said. "The Indy 500, like everyone says, is a huge race. And I think it is very special for us to be here. It's a bigger challenge. Every year I've been in biggest challenge. And with Chip, you never know what to expect. He always comes up with new ideas and new things."

-IRLNS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Chip Ganassi Racing