Montoya wins Michigan 500

Juan Montoya won the Michigan 500 by mere inches from Michael Andretti after what must rate as one of the most enthralling CART races of all time. The Columbian beat Andretti by just 0.04s after three hours of fierce wheel-to-wheel jousting at well over 200mph.

Montoya wins Michigan 500

The officials counted 55 changes of lead at the line but with so much passing occurring on the backstretch, the actual number of moves could be more than double that figure.

The race ended the same way it started: with Montoya and Andretti fighting for every inch as they battled for the lead. Starting order became irrelevant by the first corner as Gil de Ferran came through to lead from fifth, but before long the Penske driver was shoved out of the limelight by Montoya and Andretti's scrap.

The duo were swapping the lead at almost every corner, using the awesome draft creating by the cars as they raced around the 2-mile superspeedway at 230mph to slip-stream each other constantly.

Kenny Brack, Helio Castroneves, Christian Fittipaldi and Cristiano da Matta eventually managed to join the battle and by the time the leaders started lapping traffic on lap 22 it was Castroneves leading from Montoya, although with the positions changing every few hundred yards this meant very little.

Montoya started the first round of pit stops on lap 33. Adrian Fernandez stayed out longer than most and briefly led, only to spin in the pit exit as his limiter switched off, nosing gently into the wall and bringing out the first yellow. Damage to the Patrick Racing Reynard was restricted to a dent in the tip of the nose cone and he was able to rejoin without much delay.

Also in trouble in the pit stops was Jimmy Vasser. He couldn't get into his pit because Roberto Moreno was leaving after his own stop and forced Vasser wide. The Ganassi driver had already dropped back into the midfield and now lost a lap by having to come round again and make a second attempt at a pit stop.

Brack had taken the lead in the pit stops and he headed Montoya at the restart, with Castroneves and Fittipaldi rapidly making it a four-way fight. The latter seemed to be the fastest at this point and led by lap 51. However, the incredible slip-streaming meant that everyone was doing yo-yo impressions anyway. Brack, Castroneves and Andretti also took turns at leading before the next round of pit stops, at which Andretti lost time by overshooting slightly.

After a caution for debris on the backstretch, the Team Rahal cars of Brack and Papis found themselves running one-two, until Castroneves came storming around the outside of both in one move. Fittipaldi joined this fight but on lap 97 there was contact between him and Brack as the Brazilian's Newman-Haas Lola drifted wide and pinned the Swede against the wall.

It was a dramatic impact and several drivers were hit by debris as the Rahal Reynard shattered against the concrete. Montoya was just inches behind and the shrapnel marks on his roll hoop (just above his head) showed how close he had been to the incident. Gil de Ferran came off even worse, sustaining a nasty cut to one of his fingers after being hit by flying carbon fibre, but continuing in the race until later retiring with a suspension problem.

Fittipaldi continued after pitting for new tyres, but Brack's day was definitely over. He was angry afterwards but lucky to emerge unhurt.

Montoya won the pit stop race under the ensuing full course yellow, but Castroneves soon passed the Ganassi driver when green flag racing resumed. The Brazilian was almost able to relax as Montoya focused on fending off Papis, Tracy (who dropped back during every stint but made up time with excellent pit stops) and da Matta.

Andretti was gradually making up ground after his earlier pit incident and by lap 120 he was embroiled in a battle for the lead with Castroneves. It was spine-tingling stuff as the duo ran side-by-side for lap after lap at incredible speed, often coming close to touching wheels as they diced between the backmarkers.

While all this went on, Montoya sat calmly in third place, saving fuel by running in the draft created by the battling leaders. This relatively orderly behaviour lasted until the next round of pit stops, when da Matta pulled away too soon and knocked over his refuelling man. There was a brief fire as the methanol leaked from the hose but the PPI Motorsports crew quickly dealt with the situation. No-one was hurt but da Matta was out again after another impressive run.

"It was just a misunderstanding," he explained. "They went to make a change to my front wing but I thought they were giving me the signal to go."

Also out by this stage was Tony Kanaan, now almost fully recovered from the injuries he sustained in Detroit. As ever, the young Brazilian was the leading Mercedes runner, quickly fighting his way into the top ten and looking well placed until he was forced out by an overheating problem.

"I was having a good race, just saving the engine and the car," he said. "We just had some water temperature problems. We wouldn't have won today but we would have got some good points.

"You have to be positive though because a week ago I wasn't even fit enough to drive the car."

Jimmy Vasser and Roberto Moreno had both fallen by the wayside too, taken out by gearbox problems on the punishing superspeedway. Moreno had never been in the fight, going a lap down early on as he struggled with appalling handling.

Back up front it was Alex Tagliani who was suddenly making the running, moving up the order thanks to an early pit stop and some fast out-laps. He was running seventh after the stops and rapidly raced into the lead, making up four places on one lap alone.

Soon afterwards however, his rookie enthusiasm got the better of him. Under pressure from Castroneves, he spun into the wall and brought out another yellow, nearly wiping out several cars as he rebounded onto the infield.

"I don't know what happened," he admitted. "I was trying to save the car then suddenly I hit a really strange bump and lost the back end."

The yellows meant another round of pit stops, and excellent work by Ganassi and Team KOOL Green meant that Montoya and Tracy emerged first and third, sandwiching Castroneves. Andretti was fourth, followed by the quietly consistent Dario Franchitti, the battered cars of Fittipaldi and Fernandez, and Patrick Carpentier, who had also run with the lead pack on several occasions.

The crews now began to urge their drivers to save fuel in a bid to complete the race with just one more stop. The drivers were clearly too busy racing to listen- Tracy, Montoya, Andretti and Castroneves all took turns at leading during the first ten laps after the restart...

By lap 187 Castroneves was in front and pulling away, as Penske decided to go flat-out and hope to build up enough of a lead to stop and still emerge ahead. His lead grew to a vast 6.6s at one stage while further back Carpentier and Oriol Servia took advantage of the fuel-conscious driving of their more-fancied rivals to move up to second and third. Servia was particularly rapid during this part of the race, taking the lead when Castroneves stopped but then dropping out of contention soon afterwards when he was penalised for crossing the pit exit line too early when he made his own stop.

By lap 215 everyone had stopped but only the late-pitting Fernandez was sure he could go the distance. He was now second, some way behind the charging Castroneves but only just ahead of the battle for third between Carpentier, Papis, Montoya, Fittipaldi, Tracy, Andretti, Franchitti and Mauricio Gugelmin. This was an intense tussle, regularly featuring cars running four and five abreast. It all looked just a little too close for comfort on a 230-mph concrete wall lined oval and something had to give...

Sure enough Fittipaldi got caught out by turbulence and looped into a massive spin onto the infield. It was terrifyingly reminiscent of Greg Moore's fatal accident on the similar Fontana superspeedway as Fittipaldi's Lola bounced over the grass at incredible speed, thankfully staying upright despite getting airbourne over an access road. The Brazilian hurt his right ankle during the wild ride and had to be helped away from the scene.

Montoya, Castroneves and Tracy stopped under the resulting yellow and emerged at the back of the pack. There were now 17 laps to go and everyone had enough fuel to go all the way. Excitement was guaranteed...

Andretti quickly picked up the lead from Fernandez but Montoya was scorching through the field, a second a lap faster than anyone else. Eighth at the lap 231 restart, by lap 236 he was passing Andretti for the lead.

However, Andretti does not exactly have a reputation for giving up without a fight and he stayed with the Columbian. It was impossible to count how many times they swapped the lead between them during the final 14 laps, each trying to force the other into leading into turn four so that they could draft past on the exit and be first across the finish line.

It looked like Andretti would be the man as he consistently managed to be in front as they crossed the line but Montoya then gained an advantage by boxing his rival in briefly as they lapped Luiz Garcia Jr.

Andretti led as they started the final lap but he was passed into turn one by Montoya. Andretti got back alongside and appeared to be nosing ahead as they came up to lap the Swift of Tarso Marques. Running absolutely side-by-side, the pair looked certain to tangle as their wheels came within centimetres of interlocking, but somehow Montoya squeezed through to win by just 0.04s.

Montoya and Andretti haven't always been the best of friends, possibly something to do with a 220mph collision between them in practice at Motegi last year, but there were no recriminations afterwards despite the number of close calls their battle contained.

"It was really good fun!" Montoya enthused from victory lane. "I was a bit worried before the race but it was a lot of fun. It was lucky we had that backmarker there though..."

"It was great fun racing with Juan," Andretti agreed. "He did a fantastic job. It was the last lap of the race, neither of us was going to back off while we were fighting to get the tow off Tarso's car, but if he'd just come down into the middle of the track rather than staying up high then I would have won..."

Franchitti took third after a comparatively quiet race, enlivened by a tussle with Papis in the closing stages that rivalled the lead dice for thrills and spills. Papis dropped out with just three laps to go, allowing Carpentier, Castroneves and Fernandez to complete the top six. Gugelmin also retired late, while the fastest man on track in the closing laps was Memo Gidley. He was four laps down after earlier handling and mechanical problems in the Della Penna Reynard normally driven by Norberto Fontana, but was fast enough to unlap himself from the leaders in the final moments.

Andretti's close second gives him a 14-point lead over the unlucky Moreno in the standings, but Montoya's win today means he is also back in contention, just thirty points behind the leader with just under half the season still to go. It's Target Chip Ganassi Racing's 'home' event at Chip Ganassi's Chicago oval next weekend, a repeat of his 1999 victory there would put the reigning champion right in the thick of the title battle.

Results from Michigan:

1 Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota
2 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 0.040s
3 Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda + 1.621s
4 Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 2.105s
5 Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda + 3.130s
6 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 3.843s
7 Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda + 6.886s
8 Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota + 1 lap
9 Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford not running
10 Memo Gidley Della Penna Reynard-Toyota + 3 laps
11 Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero Reynard-Mercedes + 4 laps
12 Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford + 4 laps

Retirements:

Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes
Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford
Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota
Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota
Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford
Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford
Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes

Non-starter:

Takuya Kurosawa Coyne Lola-Ford

Championships standings:

1 Andretti- 104pts
2 Moreno- 90pts
3 Tracy- 80 pts
4 de Ferran- 75pts
5 Montoya- 74pts
6 Fernandez- 69pts
7 Brack- 66pts
8 Carpentier- 65pts
9 Vasser- 63pts
10 da Matta- 62pts

shares
comments
Herbert looks to CART future

Previous article

Herbert looks to CART future

Next article

Gidley's top 10 finish earns him another race

Gidley's top 10 finish earns him another race
Load comments
The one-time Schumacher rival rebooting his career Down Under Plus

The one-time Schumacher rival rebooting his career Down Under

Joey Mawson made waves in the middle of the last decade, beating future Haas Formula 1 driver Mick Schumacher - among other highly-rated talents - to the 2016 German F4 title. A run in F1's feeder GP3 category only caused his career to stall, but now back in Australia Mawson's S5000 title success has set that to rights

General
May 8, 2021
The lesson football’s would-be wreckers could learn from racing Plus

The lesson football’s would-be wreckers could learn from racing

OPINION: The greed-driven push for a European Super League that threatened to tear football apart is collapsing at the seams. Motor racing's equivalent, the football-themed Superleague Formula series of 2008-11, was everything that the proposed ESL never could be

General
Apr 21, 2021
The F1 and Indy 'nearly man' that found contentment in Japan Plus

The F1 and Indy 'nearly man' that found contentment in Japan

Having had the door to F1 slammed in his face and come within three laps of winning the Indianapolis 500, the collapse of a Peugeot LMP1 shot meant Japan was Bertrand Baguette's last chance of a career. But it's one which he has grasped with both hands

General
Feb 27, 2021
The female all-rounder who arrived "too early" Plus

The female all-rounder who arrived "too early"

From Formula 3 to truck racing, Dakar and EuroNASCAR via a winning stint in the DTM, there's not much Ellen Lohr hasn't seen in a stellar racing career that highlights the merit in being a generalist. But she believes her career came too early...

General
Feb 17, 2021
How Radical's latest machines fare on track Plus

How Radical's latest machines fare on track

The lightweight sportscar manufacturer has not rewritten the rulebook with its latest machines, but the new SR3 XX and SR10 still provide a step forward on its previous successful models

General
Feb 8, 2021
The real-life racing rogues stranger than fiction Plus

The real-life racing rogues stranger than fiction

The forthcoming Netflix film linking the world of underworld crime and motorsport plays on a theme that isn't exactly new. Over the years, several shady figures have attempted to make it in racing before their dubious dealings caught up with them

General
Jan 31, 2021
How a GP is thriving in a COVID-free territory Plus

How a GP is thriving in a COVID-free territory

The New Zealand Grand Prix's mix of rising talent and big-name stars thrilled the crowds (yes, remember crowds?) assembled for the Toyota Racing Series meeting at Hampton Downs last weekend and left distant observers craving a repeat

General
Jan 26, 2021
How a much-changed Macau GP kept the party going Plus

How a much-changed Macau GP kept the party going

OPINION: The 67th edition of the Macau Grand Prix might have been a largely muted affair to the outside world without its international influx and star line-ups, another victim to the COVID-19 pandemic, but organisers deserve huge credit for keeping the party going

General
Nov 24, 2020