MAKING IT LOOK TOO EASY
Indianapolis during the 1990s. He didn’t
come from dirt tracks or sprint cars, and
had no knowledge of Troy Ruttman, Bob
Sweikert or Jimmy Bryan. He couldn’t tell
his “Back Home Again in Indiana” from his
Tom Carnegie. Simply, he was a foreign
road racing champion being groomed for
Formula 1, and Indy was never on his radar.
But, after winning the 1999 CART title
as a rookie with a dazzling display of car
control and cojones, Montoya and
teammate Jimmy Vasser were summoned
by Ganassi and issued their orders: They
were to race in the following year’s Indy
500. No CART team had ventured to
16th & Georgetown since the open-wheel
war broke out in ’ 96, so this was definitely
crossing into enemy territory.
On his way to the 1996 CART title,
Vasser had won the U.S. 500 (CART’s
once and done attempt to run a “spoiler”
race at Michigan International Speedway
on the same day as the Indy 500) and
had made a controversial statement in
victory lane – prompting an unpopular
refrain all through the Month of May.
“People constantly yelled at me, ‘Who
needs milk?’” he recalls with a grin. “We
certainly didn’t feel welcome.”
Ganassi would be running different cars
with decreased horsepower from its CART
engine, and 1998 Indy 500 winner Eddie
Cheever had issued the challenge that
he’d like to see what would happen if any
CART guys would come run with “our cars,
our engines and our style of racing.”
Well, the early indicator that JPM
might not be intimidated by Indy’s
constant speed and the new equipment
came in his first test. He was wide open
around the Speedway in a couple of laps.
“No power, easy flat. Hell, my mom could
drive this car,” he replied when asked
about his initial laps at The Mecca.
That sounded beyond cocky, if not
downright disrespectful to most IMS
railbirds. But if you knew Montoya, you
knew he was just being his blunt, honest
self. It was 300hp less than his steady
ride and packed plenty of downforce. It
was easy for a man of his abilities, but it
was hard for a lot of people to accept.
Two-time Indy winner Al Unser Jr. said
they would take Montoya out of the
Speedway in a body bag if he didn’t show
proper respect, which prompted a shrug
of the shoulders from JPM and a quip
that the only time he expected to see
Unser was lapping him.
The combative spark that had been
missing from qualifying since ’ 95, when
Team Penske inexplicably missed the show,
returned full bore in 2000. Montoya held
the pole position until late in the afternoon,
when Greg Ray knocked him off it. That set
off an impromptu celebration of IRL drivers
high-fiving Ray because he’d claimed the
first scalp in this war within the race.
“They cheered almost as loud when we
lost in the first round of the pit-stop
contest on Carb Day,” says JPM’s
then-engineer Bill Pappas.
For the traditional front-row photo the
day after Pole Day, Ray was an hour late
After an eight-year
absence from U.S.
shores, Formula 1
was to make its
return at the most
prestigious track of
all in 2000, and the
signs of change at
IMS were clear by
Indy 500 time.
The old scoring
tower had been
replaced by a
garages arrived in
place of the old
section, and many
of those garages
were used as
during the Month
To improve the
installed on top of
the garages, with a
view of pit lane,
while a new press
center also had an
of pit lane.
The 84th Indy 500 was the first time two
women had started the race – Sarah Fisher
(LEFT, car 15) made her debut, and Lyn
St. James (BELOW) started for the
seventh and final time. Unfortunately,
they collided just before half-distance.
ANOTHER MILESTONE IN 2000
Also in 2000 (from TOP) – Return of Al Unser Jr.,
last top 10 for two-time runner-up Scott Goodyear,
and debut of future winner Sam Hornish Jr.