Hurricane Juan Levels Rio Montoya wins his third straight, a record for a CART rookie. By Marc Sproule It's time to start believing that Juan Montoya is going to be the one to beat on the way to the championship. Starting from the third...

Hurricane Juan Levels Rio Montoya wins his third straight, a record for a CART rookie. By Marc Sproule It's time to start believing that Juan Montoya is going to be the one to beat on the way to the championship.

Starting from the third spot and passing Christian Fittipaldi and Dario Franchitti on the second lap -- the first green flag lap of the race -- Montoya took the lead of the GP Telemar Rio 200 on Saturday. Although he didn't lead all the laps of the 108-lap race, he led 93 of them and won his third race in a row in the five-race-old season. This establishes a new record: No rookie has ever won three in a row in CART history.

Joining Montoya on the podium were third-place qualifier Dario Franchitti in the second spot and polesitter Christian Fittipaldi. Early in the race it looked like Fittipaldi and Franchitti were going to hang on to the rapid rookie, but Montoya had them covered.

On the third lap, Franchitti lost his speed shifter, an electronic device that allows for shifting without lifting off the throttle. As a result he had to lift for each shift, and that cost him dearly. That wouldn't be a major problem on most ovals, but in Rio drivers have to shift down at the end of both straightaways and then go back up the gears. This cost Franchitti any chance of catching Montoya on the green-flag laps and was killing him on the restarts.

Fittipaldi was hampered after opting for speed with a lower downforce setup. This meant he was fast in the straights, but he couldn't get through the corners quickly or go deep into the corners before braking. The lower downforce also meant that it took longer for his tires to come up to temperature after the restarts. By then Montoya and Franchitti were able to distance themselves from him. Braking ability is important at this track, and Fittipaldi simply couldn't mount a challenge for the lead.

Other than the three on the podium, Al Unser Jr. was the only driver to lead a lap. He led for 10 laps -- from Lap 77 to 86 -- when the leaders made their last pit stops.

After the race, the top three talked about their day. Fittipaldi admitted he and his team had gone the wrong way on their setup. "It was our own fault, and we didn't have the setup for the race. It was a struggle through the corners and on all the restarts. We didn't have enough downforce, and it would take the tires three laps to come in. I have certainly learned a lesson today."

He almost learned a very costly one. In Turn 4, he nearly put the car in the wall near the end of the race. But the young Brazilian shouldn't be too disappointed. He's having a good season and now stands in third place for the points with 49, two behind Franchitti.

Like Fittipaldi, Franchitti felt it "wasn't a bad day. We had great pit stops, and we conserved fuel. I could go three laps longer on a fuel run than the other two, so I tried to make some time that way. Our biggest problem was the restarts because of the speed shifter." And like Fittipaldi, he nearly had a wall-banging incident near the end of the race.

The first thing Montoya talked about was the pass of Fittipaldi for the lead on the second lap. "He braked slightly early, and I got under him and then by." Late in the race he too nearly crashed after the last restart. "We were all pushing to the limit."

His moment came in Turn 4, and it was definitely a sizable wiggle. He now has a solid 15-point lead in the championship and obviously has no serious competition for Rookie of the Year honors.

The race was relatively incident free, although there were 30 laps run under the yellow. The first attempt at a start was waved off. Once the green waved, the next yellow came in Lap 29 when Michael Andretti's engine broke in a big way and he coasted to a stop on the track. On Lap 49 Scott Pruett's engine also let go, bringing out the yellow for six laps. Thirty laps later Adrian Fernandez found himself in the Turn 4 wall. That meant another six laps of following the pace car. Just as the field got the green after Fernandez's trouble, it started to drizzle in Turns 3 and 4. Fortunately, the rain passed, and the green waved again five laps later. Another five-lap yellow period started three laps later when Robby Gordon and Michel Jourdain Jr. made contact and continued. The last restart came at the beginning of the Lap 102.

The series now has a week off before the race at Gateway. It's another oval, and if the rookie from the road-racing ranks has his way there, it may be a long season for everyone else.


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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Michael Andretti , Adrian Fernandez , Christian Fittipaldi , Dario Franchitti , Michel Jourdain