IRL: Rookie Juan Montoya wins the Indy 500

by staff Indianapolis, IN (May 28, 2000) - Rookie driver Juan Montoya won the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 today, leading 167 of the 200 laps in his Target Ganassi Racing Oldsmobile-powered G Force. "I think it...

by staff

Indianapolis, IN (May 28, 2000) - Rookie driver Juan Montoya won the 84th running of the Indianapolis 500 today, leading 167 of the 200 laps in his Target Ganassi Racing Oldsmobile-powered G Force. "I think it will take time to realize what I just won. I was happy to cross the finish line. It's so exciting. I can't believe it," Montoya said.

This year's race had a record-setting purse of $9,476,505 with Montoya receiving the victor's share of $1,235,690. Montoya was also the overwhelming choice as the "Rookie of the Year" -- adding a rather more modest $25,000 to his winnings.

Montoya was the first Indy 500 rookie to make it to Victory Lane since Graham Hill in 1966. However, Montoya bested even Hill's performance, as Jackie Stewart was selected as the Rookie of the Year that time, having led 40 laps before losing oil pressure.

Only seven drivers have conquered the Brickyard on their first attempt: beyond Montoya and Hill, these include Ray Harroun (1911), Jules Goux (1913), Rene Thomas (1914), Frank Lockhart (1926) and George Souders (1927).

This year Montoya led three time in one of the most dominant performances in recent memory. He took the lead for good on lap 180 from teammate Jimmy Vasser. Thinking he was putting Vasser a lap down at the time, Montoya radioed the pits asking for help. "I called Chip and said 'Tell Jimmy to move over.' And he said, 'Uh, Juan, he's the leader. That's for position.' And I said, 'Uh-oh.'"

After the race, Ganassi talked about the magnitude of a win at the historic two and a half-mile speedway. "It's huge. It's hitting me now. Everyone is asking, and everyone is interested in the political side of things. And I'm not. This is still the biggest race in the world, and this is the biggest win in the world. And it will get bigger as time passes."

Finishing second in the Delta Faucet/Coors Light/Tae-Bo/Hemelgarn Racing entry, seven seconds behind the leader, was 1996 Indy 500 winner, Buddy Lazier. Lazier closed on Montoya late in the race but was foiled by traffic in his bid for the lead.

"I am definitely a little disappointed because I just got so caught up got so caught up in traffic," Lazier said. "I kind of hoped the IRL guys would stick together. He'd (Montoya) be able to get a run on them and be able to pass. But then I'd come along and I'd end up getting stuck. I wound up having to drop down two gears three or four times."

"When I was able to push him, I could see his car drifting up and drifting up. I was just a little quicker out of turn four, so I was setting it up. It was coming. I really had a great race car. It was going to be an awesome, power pass, but it was going to happen, I think."

"There were several times that I lost half the short chute. Had circumstances been a little bit different we also had the car and the performance capable of winning. We were good."

Despite taking his second runner up finish in one of the world's most famous races, Lazier congratulated Montoya and the Ganassi team after the race. "You win this race, you earn it. My hat's off to him." Still, a prize of $567,100 is nothing to scoff at, even for the 1996 champion.

Foyt Racing teammates, Eliseo Salazar and Jeff Ward, finished third and fourth today, both cars on the lead lap. Ward's Harrah's No. 14 entry was less than three seconds behind Salazar in his Rio sponsored car when the checkers were shown. Billy Boat, driving a third Foyt entry, finished 15th, two laps down.

"I thought it was a great race," said Foyt. "Both my cars ran very fast. Any time you finish all three cars in a 500-mile race, you've done well."

Eddie Cheever drove the Excite@Home Indy car from his starting position on the inside of the fourth row to a fifth place finish. Cheever ran as high as second place in one of only two Infiniti-powered cars in the race.

"We could have won if we had not had a few little moments," Cheever said. "I lost half a lap (on lap 131) when I changed gears from fifth to sixth and all I had was a bunch of neutral. I thought the race was over, but I put it in gear, it vibrated a little bit, and something inside decided to fix itself."

After completing the entire race distance, Cheever was encouraged by the strength and stamina of the Infiniti engine. The engine was superb today. We tried hard to break it - I ran it as fast as I could, and it did very, very well. The Infiniti is here. It won't be too long before everybody is going to want to be running an Infiniti.":

Twenty-two cars were running at the end of 500 miles with six cars finishing on the lead lap. Robby Gordon, who flew to Charlotte, NC at the completion of the 500 to compete in a NASCAR race, was the last car on the lead lap. "We came here to win the race, not finish sixth. We were pretty strong, but I made a couple of mistakes. We weren't as strong as last year."

Notes: Robby Gordon left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in a helicopter with his spotter, former midget ace Stevie Reeves. Gordon missed the start of the NASCAR race at Charlotte and P. J. Jones took the green flag in Gordon's race car. At press time the NASCAR race was in rain delay. Gordon was expected to drive when the race resumed.

Barber Dodge racer, Sarah Senske was the Turn three spotter for Lynn St. James today. Four time Indy 500 winner Rick Mears did the spotting for Jason Leffler in Turn one.

Billy Boat gain the most positions in today's race. Boat finished 15th after starting 31st.

Juan Montoya led 143 consecutive laps today breaking Tony Stewart's record of 141 set during the New Hampshire 200 in August of 1996 at New Hampshire International Speedway.

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About this article
Series IndyCar
Drivers Tony Stewart , Robby Gordon , Eddie Cheever , Eliseo Salazar , Jeff Ward , Billy Boat , Jimmy Vasser , Jackie Stewart , Rick Mears , Jules Goux , René Thomas , Stevie Reeves , Graham Hill
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing