CLEVELAND (JUNE 27, 1999) - Target/Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Juan Montoya, the FedEx Championship Series points leader, proved most efficient at overcoming adverse conditions during Sunday's rain-drenched Medic Drug Grand Prix of...
CLEVELAND (JUNE 27, 1999) - Target/Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Juan Montoya, the FedEx Championship Series points leader, proved most efficient at overcoming adverse conditions during Sunday's rain-drenched Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar at Burke Lakefront Airport en route to his series-leading fourth triumph of the season. Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) mastered the elements caused by early-race rain showers that had the competitors switch from the customary slicks to rain tires about a third through the race and then return to slicks late when the 2.106-mile temporary course began to dry out. Montoya, a 23-year-old Colombian, was strong in all conditions as he led 76 of the 90 laps and went on to a 10.604-second victory over runner-up Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard). Due to the caution-flag conditions from the rain, the event became a two-hour timed event per CART rules on road/street courses. Montoya led on four occasions, including the first 30 from his pole position, and his final time on the point was keyed by a restart on following a caution on Lap 64 caused by an accident involving Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Reynard). De Ferran was leader on the restart as they went green on Lap 68, but Montoya was able to get a strong run as they crossed the start/finish line and wrestled the lead away with an inside dive as they maneuvered the Turn 1 hairpin. He never relinquished the lead as he led the final 22 laps for his second win from the pole this season. The other came at Nazareth. De Ferran, who led nine laps, earned his third consecutive podium to move into second place in the FedEx Championship Series points championship. De Ferran, who trails Montoya, 112-87, moved past Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), who slipped to third with 85 points after finishing 25th and pointless due to a throttle linkage problem. The effort by de Ferran was also his third podium in his last four starts at Cleveland. Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) overcame a pit-lane penalty for speeding and late engine difficulties to notch his third podium of the season. The impressive run was the sixth podium in 14 career starts at Cleveland for Andretti, who is fourth in the championship with 78 points. The top five was rounded out by Paul Tracy (KOOL Honda Reynard) and Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Penske Lola), respectively. Tracy's fourth-place effort was his third consecutive top-five finish and has him situated eighth in the championship with 58 points. Unser Jr.'s fifth-place performance was a season best and matched his best finish since Vancouver of last season.
WHAT THEY'RE SAYING
JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "I think the race went quite well when it was really wet, but when it starts to dry, the car doesn't work so well on wet tires. The same thing happened to me at Portland last week. I was first in the wet, then the track started to dry and I ended up 10th or something like that. The car was good on cold tires, after that I tried to build up as much of an advantage on Gil [de Ferran] as I could. We had some troubles early in the year; we made some mistakes, but now things are much better. The Honda engine is working well and I'm thinking in terms of winning the championship, so I'm happy."
GIL de FERRAN, Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard: "To begin with, everything was normal. I was staying with Juan throughout the first stint, but when the rain came that messed everything up. I came straight in and put wets on and went out there while it was raining. I was able to get past Juan and open up a gap. Unfortunately, it didn't continue to rain. When the full-course yellow came out, we went for the restart and I just couldn't get the tires up to temperature fast enough, and Juan was gone. After that, it was all I could do to maintain the gap. Second is a good result for us in terms of the championship, but I have to admit we're a little disappointed."
MICHAEL ANDRETTI, Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift: "I think we have to be happy [with today's result] considering all the trouble we had. It started on the grid when I was in the car and we were talking on the radios. I couldn't hear them [the crew], but they could hear me. We had problems the whole race with that. Then, on the first pit stop, I guess I was clocked at 51 miles per hour in the pit lane, which is one mile over the limit [and resulted in a drive-through pit lane penalty]. Then, the yellow [flag] came out and I was able to get on rain tires quicker than most guys, which enabled us to make up a ton of spots. In the wet, it was like ice out there. At the end, Juan was just gone. At one point, my engine shut off on the straightaway and I was able to get it restarted and bring home third. Considering everything that happened, I'll take it."
* En route to Sunday's victory, Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) passed the 500 laps-led mark for his rookie campaign in the FedEx Championship Series. He led a race-high 76 laps Sunday, bringing his season total to a series-high 564 through nine events. Montoya is well-positioned to challenge the FedEx Championship Series rookie laps-led record of 610 established by two-time series champion Alex Zanardi in 1996.
* Montoya's victory was Honda's sixth win in the past seven FedEx Championship Series events, dating to Montoya's triumph at Long Beach in April. Honda extended its lead in the Manufacturer's Championship to 176-139 over Ford, with Mercedes-Benz standing third at 97.
* Gil de Ferran's (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard) runner-up effort lifted Brazil into the lead in the Nation's Cup competition with 132 points. The four-time defending champion United States stands second with 117 and is followed by Colombia with 112 and Canada with 111.
* Montoya's victory was the fourth in a row at Cleveland for Honda power, following wins by de Ferran in 1996 and back-to-back triumphs by Zanardi in '97 and '98. Zanardi's victories were also the first of three in a row at Cleveland for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, a streak that was extended by Montoya on Sunday.
* Michael Andretti's (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift) third-place finish was his sixth podium finish in 14 career starts at Cleveland, including a victory in 1991, runner-up efforts in 1986, '92 and '98 and third in '84.
* Al Unser Jr. (Marlboro Mercedes Lola) finished fifth, his best result since switching from a Penske to a Lola chassis at Gateway International Raceway last month. The performance also represented his 12th PPG Cup points-paying effort in 17 career starts at Cleveland, including victories in 1985 and '94.
* Roberto Moreno (Motorola PacWest Mercedes) finished eighth Sunday, his fifth consecutive PPG Cup points-paying performance since taking over as a substitute driver for the injured Mark Blundell, who continues to recover from a broken cervical vertebra sustained in a May 4 testing accident at Gateway International Raceway. Moreno also led three laps, the first time he had led on a road or street circuit since leading one lap at Detroit in 1997.
WHAT'S ON TAP
The Medic Drug Grand Prix of Cleveland Presented by Firstar will receive an encore performance 3:30 a.m. Saturday on ESPN.
After a weekend off, the FedEx Championship Series continues with the Texaco/Havoline 200 on Sunday, July 11 at Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis.