A visit to the Indy 500
By NICHOLAS DETTMANN
INDIANAPOLIS – Fifteen years sounds like a long time. Juan Pablo Montoya would agree.
But after Sunday’s triumph in the 99th Indianapolis 500, the 39-year-old Colombian isn’t ready to put the second bookend of his remarkable career.
Montoya passed teammate and defending Verizon IndyCar Series champion Will Power with four laps to go for his second Indianapolis 500 victory. Montoya also won the 2000 Indy 500.
Power finished second, Charlie Kimball was third, Scott Dixon was fourth and Graham Rahal was fifth. The top-four finishers were separated by less than a second.
There were 37 lead changes, six in the final 15 laps.
The 15 years between Indy 500 victories is a record.
When Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000, he was 24 years old.
“For me, I think the ’99, 2000 was the start of my career,” Montoya said. “I was really young. It was just the start of it.”
In 1999, Montoya won the Cart FedEx Championship Series title, a year after winning the International F3000 championship. He made his Indy 500 debut in 2000.
Montoya won 10 races in Champ Car in two seasons.
After the 2000 season, Montoya moved to Formula 1 where he won seven races between 2001-06. He won the historic Monaco Grand Prix in 2003. Then in 2007-13, he raced in NASCAR, accumulating three victories in NASCAR’s top-two series (Sprint Cup and Xfinity).
At a crossroads in his career, Montoya returned to IndyCar in 2014.
“I want to thank Tim (Cindric) and Roger (Penske),” Montoya said. “They gave me this opportunity a little over a year ago to come and join them. I’m glad I’m proving them right, that they made the right choice. I’m loving racing right now, so it’s great.”
Montoya’s day started rough as he dropped to 30th early in the race after making contact with Simona De Silvestro during a caution lap.
While the Indianapolis 500 has its ways of punishing mistakes, it has also proven to be beneficial to drivers who exercise some patience.
In 1995, Jacques Villeneuve rallied from being two laps down to win the race.
“This was a lot of work today,” Montoya said. “I mean, with Simona in back of me, that’s what happens when you qualify bad. You find yourself in the wrong crowd.
“We kept adding downforce and adjusting the car. … As we kept adjusting the car, ‘Oh, that’s a little better; that’s a little better.’
“That’s what you got to do, stay on top of the track. What really matters is the last 15 laps.”
Montoya led nine laps. Dixon led a race-high 84 laps.
In 2000, Montoya led 167 of 200 laps.
“If you knew him, he’s a fighter,” Penske said.
One of the people to congratulate Montoya after getting into the pace car for a victory lap was Chip Ganassi.
Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 for Ganassi and Ganassi was Montoya’s car owner in NASCAR. Montoya said he wasn’t surprised Ganassi did that.
“We’re still friends,” Montoya said. “He made a business decision. That’s what it was.”
And speaking of Ganassi, Penske joined Ganassi as the only other car owner to win the Daytona 500 and the Indianapolis 500 in the same year.
Joey Logano won the Daytona 500 in February.
“He wouldn’t let me in the club,” Penske said with a smile. “I finally got it.
“He sent me a note earlier. He said, ‘Welcome to the club.’ I said, ‘Thanks for the invite.'”
Speaking of clubs, is Montoya in a league of his own as a champion at Monaco and Indianapolis, with success in stock cars and sports cars?
“We were watching the highlights the other day,” said Tim Cindric, president of Penske Racing. “They showed the 2000 race. We were sitting there in the garage. I said to him, ‘I was your biggest fan that day, the whole CART, IRL thing.’ He looked like a little kid. I think he smiled more today than he did that day.”
Montoya is not slowing down.
“I told Roger, ‘As long as you want me, I’ll be here,'” Montoya said. “Something that Roger has is Roger loves racing. He has a passion of winning and being the best out of everything he does. When you can be part of that, it’s exciting.
“I’m very blessed to be a Penske driver and to have success with him.”
Follow Nicholas on Twitter: @dettmann_wbdn