CHAMPCAR/CART: Montoya falters, Tracy picks up the pieces at Road America

Paul Tracy took advantage of yet another Juan Pablo Montoya misfortune to claim the victory at the CART event at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and to move back into contention for the 2000 CART Drivers' Championship. It was a pattern that has...

Paul Tracy took advantage of yet another Juan Pablo Montoya misfortune to claim the victory at the CART event at Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, and to move back into contention for the 2000 CART Drivers' Championship.

It was a pattern that has repeated itself over and over again this year: Montoya runs away from the field in his Lola-Toyota, only to be let down by a mechanical Failure, and ending up pointless again.

Montoya's car has failed him while in the lead in four races this season, plus twice in second place. These DNFs have robbed him of some 110 potential points - nearly double his actual total, and almost as many as championship leader Michael Andretti has accumulated in the entire season to date.

At the start, Dario Franchitti took the green flag first, but lost the lead before the first corner to Alexandre Tagliani. The Canadian drove inside Franchitti's Reynard-Honda to take the lead, and to assert control of the race.

Tracy had quite the opposite luck: he was to start from seventh, but his engine stalled before the green flag, dropping him to the back of the field. "As I was coming up the hill on the start, the car just died," said Tracy. "I radioed the team and they told me to flick a few switches, and that did the trick."

Tagliani handled his Reynard-Ford around the Road America circuit with verve and experience, despite never having seen the track prior to this weekend. He had the car set up to his liking, and had, before the first round of pit stops, pulled out a lead of nearly five seconds over Franchitti.

But that wasn't the end of Franchitti's problems. Montoya had by this time passed Andretti for fourth, and pitted just behind the Scot. The Target Ganassi team chose to short-fuel the car to gain a few precious seconds - and managed to exit just in front of Franchitti.

With his car dialed in just right for the second stretch, Montoya began to increase his lap speed, and was easily ahead when Adrian Fernandez and Tagliani made their stops - but he would have to make an early second stop.

So when he pitted on Lap 28, Tagliani recovered the lead, with his pit stop not due for five laps yet. And only two laps later, Montoya radioed the pits to tell them that his shifter had become just a piece of decoration in the cockpit.

Stuck in fifth gear, the Colombian slowly circulated to the pits, and stepped nonchalantly out of his stricken Lola-Toyota. "The problem was sudden, I just couldn't shift up," said Montoya. "It's disappointing not to finish, but now we know we are capable of leading races on road courses."

Still, the calmness with which Montoya treated yet another DNF appeared to tell a story in itself: the season certainly looks like a write-off, but there are no worries about the future. Formula One, anyone?

So Tagliani was in the clear, and easily ahead of Tracy - who had worked his way up from 23rd - and Fernandez. But Tagliani's luck didn't last, either, and he had to pull off the track on the 38th with a lifeless Reynard-Ford.

Michael Andretti had retired earlier with a broken CV during the first round of pit stops, and teammate Christian Fittipaldi didn't fare any better: a broken exhaust header caused a methanol fire during the second round of stops.

This left Tracy in a commanding lead, which he was to give up only temporarily during the final round of stops. "I just put my head down and drove. I got into the zone and I was just going faster and faster with every lap."

At the checkered flag, Tracy was some 7.5 seconds ahead of Fernandez and nine seconds clear of Kenny Brack. Roberto Moreno, Jimmy Vasser, Memo Gidley and Max Papis came in fourth through seventh, and all were on the lead lap, but well behind the leaders.

Compared to the situation a week ago, there is a significant change in the complexion of the championship. Andretti still leads with 125 points, but Moreno (112), Gil de Ferran (106), Fernandez (103), Brack (102) and Tracy (100) are now within striking distance with six of 20 races still to go in the 2000 championship.

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya