Montoya wins Motorola 300

Juan Montoya took a dominant victory in the Motorola 300 but only after Michael Andretti saw his enormous lead disappear in a cloud of engine smoke

Montoya wins Motorola 300

Montoya, set to be confirmed later this week as Jenson Button's replacement in the Williams-BMW Formula One team for 2001, finished the race with a 11.8s advantage over a charging Patrick Carpentier, the only man on the same lap as the leader by the end of the 236 lap contest.

Before the race, the drivers insisted that the combination of the track configuration at the 1.2-mile oval and the current short oval wing package was likely to lead to a pretty processional and uninspiring race. They lied... Right from the green flag there was frantic action all down the field, and though there were times when either Andretti or Montoya held nearly a full lap advantage over everyone else, there was always plenty of dicing further down the top ten.

Having been fastest in both practice and qualifying, Montoya was always going to be hard to beat. He pulled away at a furious rate in the opening laps, but soon his Ganassi team-mate Jimmy Vasser stabilised the gap to 1.7s and then began to reel in his Columbian partner as the leader struggled to lap Tarso Marques.

By lap 21 the two cars were together, with Vasser repeatedly trying to pass down the inside only for Montoya to hold on around the high line and retain the lead. Finally on lap 29 the American made it past his team-mate but their dice would continue right up until the first pit stops, the pair swapping the lead four times before their battle was interrupted by the need for routine service.

Dario Franchitti had already departed the action by now. He ran fourth at first then lost two laps when he pitted with dire handling problems, before retiring soon afterwards with a gearbox malfunction. Handling problems were to be a recurring theme today, as many drivers found their cars performance fluctuating widely during the course of the race, leading to some spectacularly close racing.

"It was crazy," said Mauricio Gugelmin. "Some guys were just so slow at times and others were just so fast. The only reason there was so much passing was because some people really didn't get their set-up right today."

One of the main movers in the first stint had been Andretti. He had qualified only 15th, but fought his way up to fifth behind the Ganassi Lolas, Paul Tracy and Carpentier before the first pit stops. By making his stop early then putting in some lightning laps while the leaders squabbled in traffic, the Newman-Haas driver leapt into the lead from Tracy, Montoya, Vasser, Carpentier and Gil de Ferran, the latter another to make good progress in the opening laps.

The middle part of the race was all about Andretti. His advantage over the field at this stage was simply stunning, his Lola-Ford regularly lapping up to 0.7s faster than Tracy and Montoya and a second quicker than the closely packed midfield, although today the midfield stretched from fourth to about 17th position...

Incredibly, by the time the pack had made their second pit stops, only the top three drivers remained on the lead lap. Tracy had Montoya all over him in the fight for 'best of the rest' behind the rampant Andretti, but even this pair had the latter's black Lola looming large in their mirrors to lap them. Presumably bothered by this, Montoya put on a charge and quickly passed Tracy, but even the normally unstoppable Columbian had no answer to Andretti.

Then came the heartbreak for the Newman-Haas team. The CART officials began to monitor Andretti after noticing smoke from the back of his car. A few laps later the team spotted a header pipe problem, and on lap 198 out of 236 Andretti's Lola expired in a burst of flame and smoke. A golden opportunity to retake the points lead had disappeared.

"We went with our gut instinct on the set-up for the race and the car was just awesome," he said afterwards. "It almost seemed easy, then after the third stop it just started to lose power..."

That left Montoya with a 22s lead over the struggling Tracy, who was soon to make his own exit when he clouted the wall and did irreparable damage to his KOOL Green Reynard's right rear suspension. The Canadian explained that there was more to the incident than just a driving error however.

"Our problem was actually the gearbox," he said. "I downshifted into turn three and the rear wheels locked because the gearbox was going away. I slid high and hit the wall but the problem that stopped us was that we didn't have many gears left."

The incident brought out the only yellow of the day, and after the pace car pulled in Montoya was left with a whole lap lead over the rest of the field. Suddenly Carpentier came back into the frame. He had run competitively in the top five for most of the race and a late final stop vaulted him into second position. He quickly unlapped himself from Montoya and was the fastest man on the track by a full second a lap in the closing stages. It was not enough however, and he had to accept second place to the magnanimous Montoya.

"Michael had the edge on everyone today," the victorious Columbian admitted. "It's a shame what happened to him. But at the same time it's good for us because we've given away so many races this year so it's about time we had some good luck."

Behind Carpentier, Roberto Moreno a surprise third place. After several quiet races for the one-time series leader, Moreno made his return to the podium thanks to a consistent drive and a clever strategy, making up track positions by short-fuelling at his second stop then pitted early for his third and making up time while others hit traffic. Having described his car as "undriveable" in the warm-up, it was something of a miraculous result, and moves the Brazilian back to within eight points of series leader Gil de Ferran.

Cristiano da Matta and Oriol Servia took fourth and fifth for PPI Motorsports. Da Matta was always a factor in the top ten and benefited from a strategy similar to Moreno's, while his Spanish team-mate drove an excellent race from a lowly 18th on the grid.

"I think I passed more people today than in my whole career!" Servia joked afterwards.

Max Papis was back on form in sixth, ahead of Vasser, whose car dropped off the pace in the second half of the event. Gil de Ferran and Helio Castroneves struggled slightly for Penske and finished only eighth and ninth, despite both running in the top five at different times during this remarkably topsy-turvy race.

"I was doing pretty well, I think I was fourth at one point," said Laguna winner Castroneves. "Then I got caught out behind a backmarker and lost about four places, so that was tough luck because we were ahead of Moreno and could have been third. What a mad race..."

Adrian Fernandez and Kenny Brack were tenth and 11th but had both run much higher, while Christian Fittipaldi salvaged a point from a low-key weekend in 12th. Tony Kanaan had starred initially by fighting with the Team KOOL Green cars for third and fourth, but dropped to 13th by flagfall in his Mo Nunn Racing Reynard-Mercedes. He was followed home by Alex Tagliani, who hovered around the top ten until brushing the wall late in the race.

The result closes up the points battle yet again. De Ferran still leads but now Moreno is his nearest challenger, eight points away from the top spot. Even today's winner Montoya still has a slim outside chance, 31 points behind de Ferran in eighth position overall, but with 66 points still available in the final three races at Houston, Surfer's Paradise and Fontana.

"Lady Luck really smiled on me about three times today," de Ferran admitted. "First in the middle of the race, I banged wheels with Jimmy Vasser and nearly went into the wall, then when both Michael and Paul went out."

With the outcome of this season's CART title fight somehow becoming yet more unpredictable with every race, he will need more than good fortune to hang onto that slender advantage when battle is rejoined on the streets of Houston in two weeks time.



1 Juan Montoya Ganassi Lola-Toyota 236 laps
2 Patrick Carpentier Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 11.804s
3 Roberto Moreno Patrick Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
4 Cristiano da Matta PPI Reynard-Toyota + 1 lap
5 Oriol Servia PPI Reynard-Toyota + 1 lap
6 Max Papis Rahal Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
7 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi Lola-Toyota + 1 lap
8 Gil de Ferran Penske Reynard-Honda + 1 lap
9 Helio Castroneves Penske Reynard-Honda + 1 lap
10 Adrian Fernandez Patrick Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
11 Kenny Brack Rahal Reynard-Ford + 1 lap
12 Christian Fittipaldi Newman-Haas Lola-Ford + 1 lap
13 Tony Kanaan Mo Nunn Reynard-Mercedes + 2 laps
14 Alex Tagliani Forsythe Reynard-Ford + 2 laps
15 Tarso Marques Coyne Swift-Ford + 5 laps
16 Michel Jourdain Jr Bettenhausen Lola-Mercedes + 5 laps
17 Alex Barron Coyne Lola-Ford + 14 laps

Retirements:

Paul Tracy Green Reynard-Honda
Mauricio Gugelmin PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Michael Andretti Newman-Haas Lola-Ford
Shinji Nakano Walker Reynard-Honda
Memo Gidley Della Penna Reynard-Toyota
Mark Blundell PacWest Reynard-Mercedes
Dario Franchitti Green Reynard-Honda
Luiz Garcia Jr Arciero PRG Reynard-Mercedes



1 Gil de Ferran Penske 137 points
2 Roberto Moreno Patrick 129 pts
3 Michael Andretti Newman-Haas 127 pts
4 Paul Tracy Green 122 pts
5 Adrian Fernandez Patrick 121 pts
6 Kenny Brack Rahal 117 pts
7 Helio Castroneves Penske 107 pts
8 Juan Montoya Ganassi 106 pts
9 Cristiano da Matta PPI 100 pts
10 Jimmy Vasser Ganassi 97 pts

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