CHAMPCAR/CART: Thursday Hard Feelings

Hard Feelings: by Robin Miller Juan Montoya made his first high-speed mistake Thurday and it cost him $5,000 and an instant loss of respect with CART's winningest driver. Montoya's failed pass of Michael Andretti early in the second ...

Hard Feelings: by Robin Miller Juan Montoya made his first high-speed mistake Thurday and it cost him $5,000 and an instant loss of respect with CART's winningest driver.

Montoya's failed pass of Michael Andretti early in the second practice session for Saturday's Firestone Firehawk 500 resulted in a huge accident and some very hard feelings between two of CART's top teams. Fortunately, it didn't result in any injuries.

As he was attempting to pass Andretti going into the first turn of the ultra-fast 1.5-mile Twin Ring Motegi oval, Montoya wasn't clear of Andretti's car but veered into him. The 23-year-old Brazilian's right rear wheel climbed over Andretti's left front and sent the two cars slamming into the wall.

Both cars were badly damaged and it required a few moments for Andretti to emerge from his Kmart Swift/Ford/Firestone after backing into the concrete.

In the infield hospital, a heated argument ensued. "He laughed at me in the hospital, he thought it was funny," said Andretti, who sported an ice pack on his stiff neck afterwards. "That's the mentality we're dealing with. I told Wally (Dallenbach, CART's chief steward) that if he (Montoya) drives like that at Michigan (International Speedway), he'll kill somebody.

"I'm not sure which disappointments me more, the move he pulled on me or the way he handled the situation afterward. I hope he changes his attitude."

Montoya, who was fined $5,000 by Dallenbach and placed on probation, said: "What happened with Michael was a shame because we were running very quick in the afternoon. I felt I had already passed him but obviously there was some contact between us. This is my first incident on an oval and I'm thankful we're both OK."

Carl Haas, co-owner of Andretti's car, attemped to confront Montoya and was blocked by Chip Ganassi, owner of the Target Team. Haas shoved Ganassi, who ripped Haas' trademark 10-inch cigar out of his mouth.

Cold And Windy The weather was unseasonably cold for a Japanese spring. Temperatures reached only 56 degrees in the heat of the day and were compounded by 25 mph winds.

"You really have to be careful getting some temperature in your tires," said Adrian Fernandez, who had quick time in both practice periods. "In the morning practice period I was pretty careful, maybe too careful, but I wanted to make sure they were up to temperatures before I pushed it.

"The wind gave me a big push in (turn) one and it kept you on your toes every lap."

Firestone's Woody McMillan said the track temperature never got over 85 degrees.

"Sometimes in the summer the track temps can reach 140 degrees so this was really cold so we suggested the guys be conservative for five or six laps," said McMillan, whose tires clocked the fastest 13 speeds on the day and have won 19 CART races in a row.

Goodyear's best runner was Gil de Ferran, who was only three-tenths off quick time but stuck in 14th spot in his Valvoline Reynard/Honda/Goodyear.

Miscellaneous Notes

Robby Gordon has hired veteran engineer Kenny Anderson for the rest of 1999. "Kenny and I have worked together before and he brings a ton of great input into this team," said the owner/driver of the Johns Manville Reynard/Toyota/Firestone after turning the 13th best speed of the day ..... Tony Bettenhausen's team was enthused because its rookie driver, Shigeaki Hattori, made it through his first two consecutive practice periods of '99. The Japanese native crashed in spring training and again in the opening day of practice -- both times at Homestead and only a couple of minutes into each session ...... Rookie Tarso Marques, subbing for the injured Al Unser Jr. in the Marlboro Penske/Mercedes/Goodyear, was 21st overall but only five tenths off quick time in his oval-track debut. "When I used to watch oval races on TV I thought they were boring. But it's nothing like I thought. It's fun and quick and very challenging. You must be driving on the edge.

Source: CART Online

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Al Unser Jr. , Shigeaki Hattori , Gil de Ferran , Michael Andretti , Adrian Fernandez , Tarso Marques , Carl Haas , Chip Ganassi , Tony Bettenhausen , Robin Miller