IRL: Indy500: Montoya dominates to break long rookie victory drought

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 28, 2000 -- Juan Montoya might have had an "R" for "rookie" next to his name on the Indianapolis 500 entry list, but he proved to the world that he is far from an open-wheel racing novice by winning the 84th ...

INDIANAPOLIS, Sunday, May 28, 2000 -- Juan Montoya might have had an "R" for "rookie" next to his name on the Indianapolis 500 entry list, but he proved to the world that he is far from an open-wheel racing novice by winning the 84th Indianapolis 500 today. Montoya, the first rookie to win the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill in 1966, triumphed with an average speed of 167.607 mph in the #9 Target/Chip Ganassi Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Montoya led three times for 167 of the 200 laps, a rookie record. Bill Holland set the previous record of 143 laps in 1947. Buddy Lazier finished second and Eliseo Salazar third. "It was a lot of fun, to be honest," said Montoya, a native of Columbia and 1999 CART champion. "The car was perfect. We didn't risk anything. This isn' t only a win for me and (owner) Chip (Ganassi), but for the whole team and Jimmy (Vasser, Montoya's teammate). Montoya earned $1,235,690 from the record purse of $9,476,505. "It will take time to realize what I just won, but I was pretty happy when I crossed the finish line." The start of the race was delayed for three hours, 10 minutes by intermittent showers. By leading 143 straight laps from Laps 33-175, Montoya also set the record for the most consecutive laps led by a rookie. Montoya took the lead for good on Lap 180 when he passed Vasser at the entrance of Turn 3. Vasser ended up seventh after a late fuel stop. Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 champion, finished 7.184 seconds behind Montoya. Lazier didn't lead a lap but posted the race's fastest lap, 218.494, on Lap 198 in his #91 Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone. "When you win this race, you earn it," said Lazier, of Vail, Colo. "He'd (Montoya) be able to get a run on them and be able to pass. I got hung up a couple of times.

"The difference was just getting bottled up in traffic. I think that's the nature of a real competitive series. You didn't know if it was going to rain or not, so everyone was really racing. It was flat out the whole race." Lazier earned fourth, second and seventh-place finishes, respectively, from 1997-99 at Indianapolis. He now owns the points lead in the Indy Racing Northern Light Series championship, 138-112, over Robbie Buhl and Scott Goodyear, who are tied for second. Salazar started and finished third in the #11 Rio A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Jeff Ward, Salazar's teammate on four-time Indianapolis 500 winner A.J. Foyt's team, was fourth in the #14 Harrah's A.J. Foyt Racing G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone. Eddie Cheever Jr., the 1998 Indianapolis 500 champion, was fifth in the #51 Excite@Home Indy Race Car Dallara/Infiniti/Firestone. Robby Gordon, who finished sixth in the #32 Turtle Wax/Burger King/Moen/Johns Manville/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, was the last driver on the lead lap. He left immediately after the race to attempt to become only the third driver to race in the Indianapolis 500 and the NASCAR Winston Cup Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte, N.C., on the same day. Greg Ray, who earned the PPG Pole Award for the race, finished 33rd and last after two separate accidents. On Lap 66, Ray's #1 Team Conseco/Quaker State/Moen/Menards Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone made contact with the outside retaining wall exiting Turn 2, causing significant broken front-right wheel and suspension damage. "We took downforce out because we selected the wrong gears," Ray said. "We got caught by the wind. With the gusts coming down out of (Turn) 2, what can you do?" Ray's crew fixed the car, allowing him to return to action on Lap 139. Four laps later, the car made contact with the Turn 2 outside retaining wall again. Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Al Unser Jr., making his first appearance in the race since 1994, finished 22nd due to mechanical problems. Unser's #3 Galles ECR Racing Tickets.com Starz Encore Superpak G Force/Oldsmobile/Firestone ran over debris from Ray's first accident, puncturing the radiator and draining the engine coolant. The Galles ECR Racing team replaced the radiator, but the car wasn't competitive when Unser rejoined the race. "We went back out to get points for the Northern Light Series championship," Unser said. "The car just wasn't working. It's 220-mph Indy cars, and I didn't want to be a danger. "To go around those pace laps, see those cheering fans and be back at the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, it was incredible. We'll be back with a vengeance. It's just too bad we have to wait 364 days for it."

Rookie Sarah Fisher, 19, finished 31st after a Lap 74 accident. Fisher, driving the #15 Walker Racing Cummins Special Dallara/Oldsmobile/Firestone, made contact with the outside retaining wall in the short chute between Turns 1 and 2 after she, Lyn St. James and another car entered Turn 1 three-wide. St. James made contact with the Turn 1 outside retaining wall in the same incident, resulting in a 32nd-place finish.

There were seven cautions for a total of 39 laps. Four were due to accidents, which resulted in no driver injuries. The time of the race was two hours, 58 minutes and 59.431 seconds. The next Northern Light Series event is the Casino Magic 500 on June 10 at Texas Motor Speedway near Fort Worth, Texas. The 85th running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 27, 2001.

-IRMLS/IMS-

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Series IndyCar
Drivers Robby Gordon , Sarah Fisher , Greg Ray , Al Unser Jr. , Robbie Buhl , Eliseo Salazar , Buddy Lazier , Jeff Ward , Lyn St. James , Chip Ganassi , Graham Hill , A.J. Foyt
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing