What debate? CART is king of open-wheels
By Jim Litke, Associated Press INDIANAPOLIS -- Case closed.
There is no more doubting where the best teams in open-wheel
racing work. Four years after speedway boss Tony George chased away
the Championship Auto Racing Teams drivers and owners and started a
rival circuit, CART owner Chip Ganassi was back home again in
Indiana with Juan Montoya in tow and kicking the door back in.
Chip Ganassi's victory just might make other CART owners reconsider their decision to stay away from Indy next year.
Until now, the alphabet war between CART and George's Indy
Racing League produced half-truths from guys with axes to grind.
Montoya proved just how much louder action can be, winning the
Indianapolis 500 on his first try.
"I feel the same," he said, "just happier."
Ganassi drove in the race himself five times in the mid-1980s,
but grudgingly stayed away from the track as the CART-IRL war
escalated. He still bases his racing operation here, though, and
when two of his biggest sponsors insisted he go, then ponied up
$2.4 million to ease the transition, Ganassi jumped at the
"Everybody here welcomed us back with open arms," Ganassi said
afterward. "This is the biggest moment of my life."
But Montoya was much less impressed.
He cracked jokes over the two-way radio in the middle of the
race. His car needed so little service most of the way -- just fuel
and fresh tires -- that the guys from the neighborhood garage could
have manned the pit. He toyed with Buddy Lazier, his closest
pursuer at the end, as if they were in line in the drive-through at
The only thing that would have made Montoya's win more
dominating is if he revealed he had the car on cruise-control when
he took the checkered flag.
The IRL has been locked in a struggle with CART for credibility
and audience share. But until Sunday's race, the only thing neither
side disputed was how much they were damaging each other -- to the
continuing benefit of NASCAR.
Now there is at least one more point of agreement.
"He's the best of the best," George said about Montoya, just
moments after handing over the trophy in Victory Lane. "He's raced
against the best, and whatever level he's been at, he's won.
"The best team won today, with the best driver. He was just on
it -- smooth, collected. My guess is this was just another day for
"I had fun out there, to be honest," Montoya admitted.
The 24-year-old Colombian won the CART championship as a rookie
last year, his victory dovetailing with Ganassi's fourth
consecutive title as an owner. Montoya may be headed for the
Formula One circuit, perhaps as early as the end of the year.
If so, his Indy debut won't soon be forgotten.
Montoya showed the complete range of skills needed to master
CART's different tracks -- ovals, road courses and street circuits.
IRL drivers, running strictly on ovals, rarely master those skills.
Montoya got into dogfights when he had to, ran and hid with the
lead when he could and, in the single most impressive maneuver in
Sunday's race, fended off Lazier coming out of a restart on Lap
As the green flag dropped, Lazier tried to jump Montoya on the
low side of the track, using the slower car of Steve Knapp in the
middle to seal off Montoya. In a daring move, Montoya swooped into
the space just ahead of Lazier before the gap closed.
"You've got to keep aggressive," Montoya said though a wide
The good news is that Montoya wasn't the only one who felt that
Several attempts at a CART-IRL reconcilliation have fallen
through, and there were signs in the days leading up to the race
that the rift was still very much on people's minds. When defending
IRL champion Greg Ray bumped Montoya off the pole, high-fives were
exchanged by IRL crew members, and several of the league's drivers
made a very public show of congratulating him.
But on race day, everybody got the same treatment -- rough --
whether they were IRL or CART drivers the rest of the year.
"I got shut out. I got hammered," Lazier said. "I got boxed
in, and the guys that did it were IRL drivers."
But he wasn't complaining. What Lazier wanted was the chance to
run against the best, fair and square, and he finally got it.
The best won, but then they usually do.
For four long years, we've heard George deny that something was
missing from the race and CART deny that it missed running on the
most storied oval open-wheel racing has to offer. Sunday proved
honesty is still a pretty good policy.
"Hats off to the IRL," said Vasser, a former CART champion
himself. "They did a great job and provided tough competition."
As George watched Montoya take off for a victory lap, he had to
wonder what message that victory was going to send. Somebody broke
into his reverie to ask whether Montoya's showing should encourage
more CART teams to make the considerable investment -- different
chassis and engines are required in the IRL -- to run at Indy.
George swallowed hard.
"I'd like to see," he said bravely, "whoever wants to run."