Front row starters out within seconds

Series leader Gil de Ferran and reigning champion Juan Montoya were both eliminated from the Honda Indy 300 in a dramatic crash within yards of the start at Surfer's Paradise

Front row starters out within seconds

Polesitter Montoya was clipped by fellow front row starter de Ferran on the run into the first chicane. The Columbian's Ganassi Lola-Toyota turned sharply into the wall then rebounded dramatically across the track and into de Ferran's Penske Reynard-Honda.

As the rest of the field took avoiding action, Montoya's 1999 title rival Dario Franchitti was also pushed into the wall, ironically by Jimmy Vasser in the second Ganassi Lola. Franchitti and Montoya's cars were both heavily damaged but de Ferran limped back to the pits with shattered suspension. The Penske team worked frantically to effect repairs but eventually admitted defeat.

"I don't know what happened," said Montoya, remarkably sanguine for a man who has now retired from 11 of the 19 races this season. "I think Gil maybe locked a wheel and hit me. But I couldn't really see who did it, all I know is that I was hit from behind."

De Ferran denied responsibility for the initial contact, his viewpoint supported by TV evidence hinting that second row starter Paul Tracy may also have tagged Montoya.

"It was really unfortunate," said the Penske driver. "I got squeezed between Juan and the wall and had nowhere to go. I don't know if someone tapped him from behind or if he just misjudged the corner.

"I had a good start and was half a car length alongside him, but I backed off when we got to the braking area."

De Ferran could have clinched the title in Australia today, but after winning the race Adrian Fernandez has closed to within five points of the Penske star's series lead with one round remaining.

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