Montoya whistles while he works over IRL
By Chris Corbellini, ABC Sports Online INDIANAPOLIS -- Juan Montoya whistled. He whistled while tying his shoes, sitting on the first row just before the start of his historic win at the Indianapolis 500.
It's 15 minutes before the race. He rests his silver wrap-around shades on the crown of his head and looks at a young blonde in a tight red top with bare midriff and black hot pants. He mentions something and she giggles. He looks at Greg Ray for just a moment to his left, as the pole-sitter squeezes on his helmet. Back to whistling. He looks down at Ray's right front tire and then back to the blonde. The grandstands boo him soundly. Whistling again.
Juan Montoya won over the Indy crowd on Sunday.
He's a rookie at Indy that finally started after a three-hour rain delay. The guy who promptly took the lead from Ray just 27 laps in, going inside, nearly onto the grass. And, need we remind you, he's the CART driver that thoroughly dominated the Indy Racing Northern Light Series on its beloved home track, becoming the first rookie to win at Indy since Graham Hall in 1966, doing so as the first CART entry to run at Indy since the split in 1995.
All this, we can only assume, while whistling.
"The kid is unbelievable, isn't he?" Team Target owner Chip Ganassi said. "The best driver in the world right now. It's that simple."
"Yeah, it was a lot of fun. To be honest, I was joking with Chip over the radio," Montoya said with a wry smile. "The car was perfect. We didn't have to risk anything."
Why wouldn't life as Juan Montoya be fun? He's got a top-notch pit crew, big-money sponsors, and cute blondes giggling at him. In his first run around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, he dominated through the practices, had the top speed on Carburetion Day, and won the big one.
Yes, he didn't buy into the mystique of the Brickyard, and yes, he did say it was just like any other track. But most people missed his point, he wasn't dismissing the grandeur of the race, he was dissecting it, getting familiar with it, breaking it down to be conquered. The seven-time winner in CART as a rookie wasn't having the best season this year, plagued by mechanic gremlins in the first four races and bad luck Saturday in Nazareth, Pa. But this Indy 500 was new to him too, and an ideal time to recoup his losses. Four new left turns to be conquered.
The fearsome rookie may also be headed to Formula One next season -- where the big-money players live. Right now, Montoya's on the front row of life wearing wraparound shades.
"I'm so happy ... the guys did a terrific job," Montoya told the ABC cameras.
It didn't all go perfect for owner Chip Ganassi's return to Indy. His crew told Montoya to slow down during his first pit stop, as the IRL limit in that area is 80 mph. Under the second caution of the day, Ganassi demanded, wrongly, to not pass the pace car as they went green. Montoya was also behind Lyn St. James when she crashed on lap 74, but managed to get around the debris.
Then there was the matter of 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier, who closed to .137 of a second of Montoya, right on his red No. 9 Dallara/Aurora's rear wing, on lap 163.
"At the end, I was scared when Lazier got close to me," Montoya admitted. "And at that time, I thought it would be difficult, but I started to pull away. I tried so hard."
Ah yes, Lazier, the IRL's remaining hope of restoring pride to its league on Sunday. After Ray crashed into the Turn 2 wall on lap 67, the debris from the collision ruptured Al Unser Jr.'s radiator. Both were done chasing Montoya. Eddie Cheever Jr., the 1998 winner, seemed to fight for third place the entire race. But only Lazier was quick enough to challenge Montoya over the final third 100 miles.
"I got close several times," Lazier said just after the race on pit lane, the sweat still dripping off his forehead. "I was a little bit quicker on the front straightaways than he was. I was able to make runs on him. I got on him and sort of bided my time, getting ready to do it, then I was bottled up."
Stan Wattles smoked out on lap 174, and the competition again heated up in the pits. Montoya had a terrific stop, while Lazier timed out at about 11 seconds; not bad, but not enough to make up ground. Bumped around in traffic once they went green, including Montoya teammate Jimmy Vasser, Lazier couldn't catch the 24-year-old Colombian to the checkered flag.
Lazier even pumped his fist as A.J. Foyt-entry Eliseo Salazar cut him off down the front straightaway with 20 laps to go. Montoya, meanwhile, enjoyed a smooth ride throughout.
"I kinda thought the IRL guys would stick up for one another," Lazier said. "But it seems like Juan would get through, and then I'd get -- boom -- bottlenecked up. I'd hate to say it, I'm not complaining, but facts are facts, I really got bottled up where he didn't. And I really thought we were capable of winning."
With a 10-second advantage over Lazier with seven laps to go, everything else was a carefree whistle. The IRL drivers struggled for the spots behind him.
The speedway's ovation at the end testified to the notion that they knew that, CART or no CART, Montoya was a real talent. He pumped his fist in triumph as he crossed the line. No more time to be glib. The time to whistle had passed.
The moment to celebrate with Team Target -- and the blonde -- had begun.