Rookie Montoya wins Indy 500

Juan Montoya made it look easy - too easy in fact - as the defending CART series champion blew away the Indy Racing Northern Lights Series competition to win Sunday's 84th Indianapolis 500

Rookie Montoya wins Indy 500

Montoya won by 7.189 seconds over 1996 winner Buddy Lazier. Eliseo Salazar was third followed by Jeff Ward and 1998 winner Eddie Cheever. Montoya became the first rookie to win the Indianapolis 500 since Graham Hill in 1966.

He also gave CART bragging rights by winning the Indianapolis 500. He became the first current CART driver to win at Indy since the CART/IRL split in 1996 has kept most of the CART teams away from open wheel racing's biggest race.

Montoya blistered the track and burned away was his racing rival's chances. The 24-year-old native of Colombia led 167 of the 200 laps in the race - since Mario Andretti led 170 in 1987 and the most for a winner since Al Unser led 190 in 1970.

It was also the most dominating performance by a rookie since Frank Lockhart won the 1926 Indianapolis 500 when he led 95 laps in a rain-shortened 150-lap race.

"He's the greatest race driver in the world and now he is the most famous race driver in the world," said Montoya's team owner, Chip Ganassi. "He is the best driver in the world right now. This is the biggest moment of my life.

"We were just glad to finish after the year we've been having."

Montoya won $1,235,690 out of an Indianapolis 500 record purse of $9,476,505. He drove the Target/Chip Ganassi G Force/Oldsmobile Aurora to victory at an average speed of 167.607 miles per hour.

Montoya, who had taken a nonchalant attitude about the Indianapolis 500 since he arrived on May 13, showed jubilation in victory lane.

"I'm so happy," Montoya said. "I'm just so happy. It was good. There were a few times I was a bit worried when Buddy Lazier got close to me, but I was able to pull away from him.

"I worked so hard for this and it is great."

The last 100 miles in the race included a fantastic battle between Montoya and Lazier, with 38 laps left, but Montoya was eventually able to pull away.

The 160th lap was run under caution after Sam Hornish Jr. spun out in the south short chute on lap 158. On the restart, Lazier, the 1996 Indianapolis 500 winner, closed rapidly on Montoya and was within one car length as the race entered its final stages.

But Montoya was able to pull away and that, combined with Lazier getting boxed in by traffic late in the race, helped Montoya win what he considers the biggest victory of his life.

"I think it will take time to realize what I just won," Montoya said. "I was happy to cross the finish line. It is so exciting, I can't believe it. The car was comfortable.

"Just keeping everything together, trying to be cool was the most difficult part of the race for me. You've got to keep aggressive. Every lap today, I had to keep pushing."

Montoya kept pushing, and pushing, and pushing and for a while, it didn't appear that anyone else in the field could challenge him. He was leader at the 100-mile, 200-, 250-, 300- and 400-mile marks.

Although he made it look easy, Montoya said the win took a lot of work.

"It's hard like any other race," Montoya said. "Going out there on lap 1, I had to push it. I wasn't going to back off. Every single driver in the IRL did an excellent job. I want to thank them. They behaved like professional race drivers."

Montoya, who finished fourth in Saturday's Bosch Spark Plug Grand Prix CART race at Nazareth Speedway, may have benefited from the 3 hour and 9 minute rain delay.

"Since this morning, I was really trying to take it easy," Montoya said. "Then we walked out and saw all the people in the grandstands. I looked at my girlfriend and said, `Jesus, it's packed. This is unreal.'

"To see that many people come out, it's just great."

A strong shower blew across the Indianapolis Motor Speedway one hour before its scheduled 11 a.m. Central Daylight Time start.

The shower lasted about 30 minutes and the cars which had already been placed on the front stretch were rolled back into the garage area. Track crews are in the process of drying the track, but another shower blew in a few hours later to delay the start by over 3 hours.

As the field took the green flag, pole winner and defending IRL champion Greg Ray was able to rocket to the front while NASCAR Winston Cup driver Robby Gordon went four-wide into the first turn to take over third place from Eliseo Salazar.

Montoya and Ray thrilled the crowd of 400,000 fans at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway when they exchanged the lead three times in two laps beginning on lap 26.

Montoya was able to dive to the inside of Ray at the end of the frontstretch and make the pass heading into the first turn. One lap later, Ray was able to make the same move when he passed Ray at the end of the front straight. But Montoya was able to pass Ray in the third turn on lap 28.

"He was fast, I thought we were as fast, he made a mistake and I passed him, and I made the same mistake and he passed me," Montoya recalled. "Then, he made the mistake again and I passed him."

Ray made his initial pit stop on lap 29 and Montoya pitted one lap later. That gave the lead to his Target/Chip Ganassi Racing teammate, Jimmy Vasser.

By the time the first pit stop sequence was complete, Montoya was back in front on lap 35.

Montoya had built up an 11.2-second lead over the second-place car before Gordon pitted on lap 56. After Gordon pitted, Montoya led by 29.3 seconds over his Target/Chip Ganassi teammate, Jimmy Vasser.

Ray led the first 26 laps, but crashed on the 65th lap when a gust of wind may have caused him to go high in the groove and smack the between the first and second turns.

"We took downforce out because we selected the wrong gears," Ray said. "We got caught by the wind. With the gust coming down out of turn 2, what can you do?"

While Ray limped his car into the pits, Al Unser Jr's radiator was punctured with debris from the crash, causing it to smoke. Unser's car was taken into the garage area where his Galles ECR Racing team is attempting to make repairs.

Ray was uninjured in the crash, but it took out of the IRL's best hopes at keeping Montoya from stealing the biggest prize in its series - the Indianapolis 500.

Montoya had built up an 11.2-second lead over the second-place car before Gordon pitted on lap 56. After Gordon pitted, Montoya led by 29.3 seconds over his Target/Chip Ganassi teammate, Jimmy Vasser.

Montoya was in the lead when the race restarted on lap 84 following a caution period when the only two female drivers in the race, Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher, were involved in a crash when the two cars touched wheels on lap 74.

Fisher was in the middle groove with St. James on the outside as the two cars went into the first turn. St. James got into the high groove, tried to come down into the middle lane where here left front tire touched St. James' right rear. That sent St. James' car rocketing into the south chute wall. Fisher also lost control in the collision and hit the wall further ahead of St. James.

Both drivers were taken to the Clarian Infield Hospital and released without injury.

"Someone tried to make a run on me, where they couldn't make a run," said the 53-year-old St. James. "I tried not to make a run on her, but I was up in the marbles."

Even the winner believed that St. James was getting in the way during the race.

"Lyn St. James nearly put me in the grass," Montoya said. "That was the closest call in the race."

With Montoya comfortably ahead at the halfway point, Ward and Lazier began to make a move towards the front. Another caution flag flew when Airton Dare's engine blew up on lap 127. Three laps later, the green flag flew and Montoya was once again able to pull away on the restart.

Ray, who had already crashed once but returned to the race after having his car repaired in the garage, crashed into the second turn again on lap 143.

The green flag flew once again on lap 150 and the first three cars - Montoya, Lazier and Ward - were running together in a single line bringing the crowd to its feet once again.

Sam Hornish spun out in the in the south chute between turns 1 and 2 on lap 158 for another caution. It was on that restart that Montoya came the closest to getting passed for the lead. Lazier was able to drive to Montoya's gearbox and try to pull to the inside to pass Montoya. Each attempt failed.

"When Lazier got close to me, we were OK because we knew we had something in our bag," Montoya said. "But when we started to push, I said, `uh-oh.' And one time, he had a run on me, so I went really deep into turn 1.

"After leading as many laps as we did, I wasn't going to give in then."

Montoya never gave in and that earned him a victory in the Indianapolis 500 in the most dominating performance since team owner Roger Penske's famed 209-cubic-inch pushrod engine caper in 1994 that earned Al Unser Jr. his second Indianapolis 500 win.

It was also a victory that had deep political ramifications, as the best team in CART over the last four years came in and beat the IRL at its own game.

"We are here like any other IRL team," Montoya said. "We aren't hear competing with a CART banner. Chip Ganassi brought a team here. I look at myself like any other driver here.

"It was great to win the CART championship last year and great to win this. These are the two biggest things that ever happened to me."

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