IRL: Indy500: Juan Montoya could break long rookie win drought

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 24, 2000 -- Graham Hill won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 1966. Before that, a first-time driver had not won since Frank Lockhart and George Souders did it in succession between in 1926 and 1927. ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Wednesday, May 24, 2000 -- Graham Hill won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie in 1966. Before that, a first-time driver had not won since Frank Lockhart and George Souders did it in succession between in 1926 and 1927.

So the odds of rookie Juan Pablo Montoya winning from his middle-of-the-front row starting position in Sunday's 84th Indianapolis 500 appear slim - on paper. But odds mean little to this spectacular rookie from Colombia. Driving fast and winning are his specialties.

Winning Indy would fit nicely into his agenda.

"It would be good, it would be good," Montoya said. "We're going to give it a good shot. We're going to have to see if we can win it right now."

On Tuesday, Montoya, 24, was honored as winner of the 26th annual Fastest Rookie of the Year Award, presented by the American Dairy Association. Previous winners of the award include his car owner, Chip Ganassi, in 1982.

Last Saturday, Montoya, driving the No. 9 Target G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone for Target/Ganassi Racing, came within 71-hundredths of a second of becoming the first rookie to capture the PPG Pole since Italian driver Teo Fabi in 1983.

Montoya averaged 223.372 mph on his four-lap, 10-mile run, then saw the pole snatched away later in the day by Greg Ray's average of 223.471 mph.

His Ganassi teammate Jimmy Vasser, who qualified Saturday at 221.976 for the seventh starting spot, was the fastest rookie qualifier in 1992 at 222.313 in a turbo-charged car.

Winning the Indianapolis 500 is just one of Montoya's challenges this weekend. Due to an April postponement caused by snow, CART will race at Nazareth, Pa., on Saturday. Montoya will start on the pole for that race.

Montoya thinks it's going to be a benefit to race before the Indianapolis 500.

"Everyone from the 500 is just going to be parked just waiting for the race," he said. "By ourselves driving on Saturday, it's going to be an advantage.

"I'm going to go for it," he said about his prospects of winning two races this weekend. "It's tough, but at the same time it's fun."

Montoya and Vasser raced in the CART event on May 14, flew to Indianapolis and were on the track May 15.

Montoya, whose father, Pablo, will be a commentator for the race telecast sent to Colombia, was not disappointed at losing the pole. He pointed out that Ray would have had six shots at him, three with his primary car and three with his backup.

"What I heard was the Menard team worked so hard for that pole they would have been discouraged if they didn't get it," he said. "I think it is good for Greg, but the conditions helped and everything.

"We'll have to see what really happens on Sunday."

Montoya said he doesn't find the Speedway's long straightaways and four 9-degree banked turns that difficult. It is the people, some 400,000 of them on Race Day, that put pressure on the driver, not the track, he said.

"Oh, it's going to be good; it's going to be something special," he said about the race.

Last year, Montoya visited the Speedway for the first time and took the Hall of Fame Museum tour bus around the track. On Sunday, he will line up between Ray and A.J. Foyt driver Eliseo Salazar on the front row as the cars charge down to the green flag to start the race.

"I've got to worry about the guy on my left and the guy on my right," he said. "I've got to be careful. After all the effort to get up there, I don't want to put the car in the wall."

Montoya is the most highly regarded rookie since Formula One World Champion Nigel Mansell came to Indy in 1993. Mansell qualified eighth, led 34 laps and finished third only because of his inexperience on restarts. Both winner Emerson Fittipaldi and runner-up Arie Luyendyk got a jump on Mansell, who was the leader, on a restart with 15 laps to go.

Colombian rookie Montoya, though much younger than Mansell, has experience with restarts as he won seven races on the CART circuit last season. He's also driven in two high-speed 500-mile races.

"Like any other 500, you've got to take care of your equipment for 400 miles, race the last 100 miles," Montoya said.

Montoya is smart enough to acknowledge that, paraphrasing Yogi Berra, the race isn't won until its won. That's why he isn't doing any premature bragging.

"I think it would be good to say I won this race," he said. "But first I have to wait until I win it before I think about what people will say if I win."

-IRMLS/IMS-

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing