Montoya dominates his way to Indy 500 win

Published 12:00 am Monday, May 29, 2000

The Associated Press

After taking the mandatory sip of milk, the 24-year-old Colombian crunched on some cookies as if dominating the Indianapolis 500 was no big deal.

Monday, May 29, 2000

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After taking the mandatory sip of milk, the 24-year-old Colombian crunched on some cookies as if dominating the Indianapolis 500 was no big deal.

”It will take time to realize what I just won,” Montoya said nonchalantly.

Indifference aside, the victory was a major blow in the 4-year-old war that has ripped apart American open-wheel racing. The best driver from Championship Auto Racing Teams rolled into Indy and beat the IRL in the world’s most prestigious – if somewhat tarnished – race.

Montoya, the defending CART champion and an Indy rookie, led 167 of the 200 laps, the most by a winner since Al Unser in 1970. Montoya defeated Buddy Lazier by a commanding 7.184 seconds – nearly a full straightaway and the largest margin since Al Unser Jr.’s 8.6-second triumph over Jacques Villeneuve in 1994.

Montoya was the best driver in the best car, giving a spectacular glimpse of his skill on lap 27 when he weaved through slower traffic to get past pole-sitter Greg Ray. The crowd of 400,000 cheered wildly, fully aware of the brilliance in their midst.

”He’s so fast, he’s so calm,” said two-time Indy winner Arie Luyendyk, watching the race for the first time in retirement. ”No matter what the conditions, he adapts. He’s a supernatural talent.”

The Flying Dutchman scoffed at the notion that Montoya’s victory was also a triumph for CART.

”If you put Montoya in the same car in Formula One as Michael Schumacher, he probably gives Schumacher some problems,” Luyendyk said. ”He dominated, but he’s done the same thing everywhere else. That’s not a reflection on the IRL. That’s a reflection on Montoya.”

The winner didn’t want to be a pawn in IRL-CART relations, which thawed a bit this year when the older circuit left a break in the schedule so its teams could return to Indy for the first time since 1995.

As it turned out, Chip Ganassi’s team, with drivers Montoya and Jimmy Vasser, was the only one that took advantage of detente.

”We are here like any other IRL team,” Montoya insisted. ”We aren’t here with a CART banner.”

In fairness to the IRL, Ganassi’s team is the best in CART, having won the last four championships with Vasser (1996), Alex Zanardi (1997-98) and Montoya a year ago.

”People should expect them to come in and win here,” said Scott Sharp, who finished 10th. ”They spend as much money in one race as other teams do in a year.”

Still, it was a remarkable performance for Ganassi’s team, which had to adapt to different chassis and engines than used in its regular series. Vasser, who finished seventh, and Montoya had another obstacle, too: They both raced in Nazareth, Pa., on Saturday in a 213-mile CART event that was postponed by snow last month.

Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and founder of the breakaway IRL, defended his creation and didn’t seem upset that someone from the other side wound up in Victory Lane.

”He’s the best of the best,” George said of Montoya. ”My guess is this was just another day for him.”

Several drivers who might have been able to challenge Montoya failed to finish the race, delayed three hours at the start by rain.