MONTOYA BECOMES FIRST ROOKIE TO WIN SINCE 1996 WITH TRIUMPH AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 18, 1999) - Juan Montoya became the first rookie since 1996 to win a FedEx Championship Series event Sunday as he led...
MONTOYA BECOMES FIRST ROOKIE TO WIN SINCE 1996 WITH TRIUMPH AT TOYOTA GRAND PRIX OF LONG BEACH
LONG BEACH, Calif. (April 18, 1999) - Juan Montoya became the first rookie since 1996 to win a FedEx Championship Series event Sunday as he led Target/Chip Ganassi Racing to its fourth consecutive Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach crown.
Montoya (Target Honda Reynard), making only his third career FedEx Championship Series start after succeeding two-time series champion Alex Zanardi, ended a rookie victory drought which spanned 38 races following Zanardi's triumph at Laguna Seca in 1996. He was the quickest first-year driver to achieve his inaugural FedEx Championship Series victory since Nigel Mansell won the 1993 season opener at Australia.
Montoya, a 23-year-old Colombian, took the lead from pole-sitter Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Honda Reynard) with just under half the race remaining and rolled to a 2.805-second victory over runner-up Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard), averaging 102.414 miles per hour.
Kanaan, who won his first career pole Saturday, threatened to lead nearly flag to flag in the early going as he led a race-high 44 laps. But he made contact with the Turn 6 tire wall while leading the 46th of 85 laps and was forced to retire. Montoya, who was running second at the time, inherited the lead and led the final 40 laps on the reconfigured 1.824-mile temporary street course. He built his lead into double digits on the 76th lap before a late caution flag triggered by contact involving Cristiano da Matta (MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) allowed Franchitti to close the final margin.
Franchitti earned his second podium finish of the season, following third at Homestead, en route to his fourth consecutive top-two finish on a temporary street circuit, dating to last year. The streak includes victories at Vancouver and Houston, and second at Australia.
Bryan Herta (Shell Ford Reynard) finished third, 7.003 seconds behind Montoya, for his second consecutive third-place finish at Long Beach. It also marked his fourth consecutive points-paying result at the venue.
Greg Moore (Player's/Indeck Mercedes Reynard) earned an eighth-place finish to maintain the top spot in the FedEx Championship Series championship with 39 points. Adrian Fernandez (Tecate/Quaker State/Patrick Racing Ford Swift), who was fourth Sunday, and Gil de Ferran (Valvoline/Cummins Special Honda Reynard), who was sixth, are tied behind Moore with 33. Fernandez is second in the championship based on highest finish -- his victory at Japan last week.
Rounding out the top five was Christian Fittipaldi (Big Kmart Ford Swift), who finished fifth and has struck together three consecutive top-nine performances this season.
Montoya's victory was the fourth consecutive win for Target/Chip Ganassi Racing at Long Beach. He follows 1996 series champion and teammate Jimmy Vasser (Target Honda Reynard), who won in 1996, and Zanardi, the two-time series champion who won in '97 and '98. JUAN MONTOYA, Target Honda Reynard: "I'd like to thank Target, Honda and Firestone. They gave me a great car today. We worked hard all weekend. The start was okay. Bryan was the toughest guy to get by, and it was too bad what happened to Tony [Kanaan]. What happened last week in Japan [an incident with Michael Andretti that landed him on probation], we just let it go by. This weekend, we put it all together. Now we're just going to try to keep on winning."
DARIO FRANCHITTI, KOOL Honda Reynard: "The first stint in the car was the worst. We blistered the back tires pretty badly. Juan [Montoya] passed us on the restart and then the three of us [Kanaan, Franchitti and Montoya] were going at it nose to tail. It was a shame for Tony, I think we would have had a pretty good battle the rest of the way. It was just a case of trying to keep Juan in sight, and I didn't have the car to do it today. But we got good [FedEx Championship Series] points, so we'll take it and move on to Nazareth."
BRYAN HERTA, Shell Ford Reynard: "It seemed like I was stuck in third place all weekend. We really didn't have anything for Juan [Montoya]. At the start, I got a good run on Tony and was able to pull inside [to pass for the lead], and it came off. We were able to tiptoe through and make it stick. It just didn't last long enough." By winning in his third career FedEx Championship Series start, Juan Montoya (Target Honda Reynard) reached his first victory sooner than any driver since Nigel Mansell won in his first start at Australia in 1993. Since Mansell's win, Alex Zanardi earned his first victory in 1996 at Portland in his ninth start; Jacques Villeneuve at Road America in 1994 in his 14th start; Andre Ribeiro at New Hampshire in 1995 in his 15th start and Gil de Ferran at Laguna Seca in 1995 in his 17th start.
Montoya became the sixth different driver since 1996 to win a race while on probation. CART Chief Steward Wally Dallenbach put Montoya on probation at last week's event in Japan for unsportsmanlike conduct and unjustifiable risk in connection with a practice incident that resulted in contact with Michael Andretti (Kmart/Texaco/Havoline Ford Swift). Other drivers who have won FedEx Championship Series events during the past four seasons while on probation include Andretti at Nazareth in 1996, Paul Tracy at Nazareth in 1997, Greg Moore at Michigan last year, Bryan Herta at Laguna Seca last year and Alex Zanardi at Australia last year.
When Tony Kanaan (McDonald's Championship Racing Honda Reynard) assumed the lead on Lap 2, it marked the first time he had ever led a FedEx Championship Series event. It was his 22nd career start. ' When Montoya took the lead on Lap 46, it marked the third time in the past four FedEx Championship Series events at Long Beach that a rookie had led at least a lap. Zanardi led one lap in 1996 while Helio Castro-Neves led 16 and JJ Lehto led five last year.
Scott Pruett (Pioneer/MCI WorldCom Toyota Reynard) finished 15th, marking his third consecutive event without scoring a FedEx Championship Series point. In a 10-year career which encompasses 127 previous starts in the FedEx Championship Series, Pruett had never gone more than two consecutive events without scoring at least one point.
Montoya's victory was Firestone's 21st in a row and eighth straight on a temporary street circuit for Honda, dating to the start of last year. Included in the run are wins by Alex Zanardi at Long Beach, Detroit, Cleveland, Toronto and Australia; and Dario Franchitti (KOOL Honda Reynard) at Vancouver and Houston.
Among the celebrities attending Sunday's Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach were actors Nicolas Cage, Anthony Edwards, James McDaniel and Tim Allen, 1999 Baseball Hall of Fame inductee Robin Yount, actress Patricia Arquette, country singer LeeAnn Rimes and former Motley Crue member Vince Neil. Guitarists Jeff Beck and Jennifer Batten performed the National Anthem.
Tim Homburg, a tire changer for the Newman/Haas Racing team, will compete in Monday's Boston Marathon after taking a cross-country red-eye flight from Los Angeles to Boston's Logan Airport Sunday evening. The FedEx Championship Series continues with Round 4, the Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix Presented by Toyota, Sunday, May 2 at Nazareth Speedway in Nazareth, Pa.
Source: CART Online