Story by Patrick Reynolds. Photo by Meesh Beer.
Indianapolis IN- Juan Pablo Montoya is two-for-three in his Indianapolis 500 career.
The 2000 race winner, in his first and only appearance in the race up until 2014, came back from early bodywork repair damage to win the Indy 500.
In 2000, Montoya won the 500 driving for owner Chip Ganassi. For the next 13 years his career wound through Formula 1 and NASCAR before coming back to Indycar in 2014 driving for Roger Penske.
Montoya finished fifth in his return to the Indy 500 last year.
This year, Montoya started 15th but dropped to 30th during the first caution period after suffering damage to his rear bodywork.
Seconds after the green flag flew to start the 500, the caution flag waved for a crash in turn one.
Sage Karam went into the wall as a middle car in a three-wide group following contact with Takuma Sato on his outside. Ryan Briscoe, substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe, also spun in the incident.
During this caution period, the front of Simona de Silvestroâ€™s car made contact with the rear of Montoyaâ€™s car and the damage resulted.
Montoyaâ€™s Penske crew changed the rear wheel guards and kept the Columbian native on the lead lap, but mired in 30th position.
â€œI told my guys â€˜Thereâ€™s a 100 ways to throw this away and thereâ€™s only one way of winning it,â€™â€ said Montoya. â€œThe guy that makes the least mistakes has the best shot of winning it. We executed today beautifully. A couple of small mistakes early (bodywork damage) but then we got our composure back.â€
He then began working his way through the field.
Montoya went to the lead during the first round of green flag stops at the 100-mile mark and then made his first scheduled stop a lap later. Crashes by Bryan Clauson on lap 88 and by Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia on lap 113 brought out subsequent yellow flags and bunched the field. Montoya worked his way into the top-five after the third caution period and was a factor for the lead and the win the rest of the way.
Pole sitter Scott Dixon and fifth-starting Tony Kanaan led much of the race up to this point. Kanaanâ€™s day came to an end with a solo turn-three crash on lap 152. His pit crew had just made a chassis adjustment on his last pit stop that may have affected his expected feel through the corner.
A three-car crash between Sebastian Saavedra, Stefano Coletti, and Jack Hawksworth required nine laps of caution to clean up and set up the 15-lap slugfest for the win.
Team Penske teammate Will Power, Chip Ganassi Racing teammates Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball, and Montoya traded positions and the lead several times with slingshot moves inside and out. Montoya took the lead from Power on lap 197 which was the final lead change.
Montoya said, â€œYouâ€™ve got to figure out how to make your move without hurting yourself. If you know you are not going to make it, youâ€™ve got to bail early enough so you donâ€™t come out completely dead (loss of ground). You still screw up. You donâ€™t want to screw up, but you do. The question is how big do you screw up?â€
Power closed on Montoya during the final circuit but slipped in turn two and was forced to lift. He made one last run on Montoya but came up short as the checkered flag waved.
â€œI think Will had a bit of under steer in the car and I think that really, really played into our hands. He couldnâ€™t get close to me out of turn two. We got to the white, we got to turn two and he was, like right on me. I just looked in the mirror and said â€˜OK where you are?â€™â€
Montoya gave Penske his 16th Indy 500 win.
â€œYou canâ€™t look in your rearview mirror,â€ Penske said following the victory. â€œI come here for one reason and thatâ€™s to win. I want to come back as long as I can stand.â€
Behind Montoya and Power at the finish were Kimball and Dixon, completing a top-four sweep of Chevrolet engines. Graham Rahal was the highest finishing Honda engine in fifth. Rounding out the top ten were Marco Andretti grandson of 1969 Indy 500 winner Mario, three-time 500 winner Helio Castroneves, JR Hildebrand who nearly won in 2011, Birmingham Indycar winner Josef Newgarden, and Simon Pagenaud who led 35 laps before slowing in the late stages.
In 2000, Montoya led 167 laps en route to his first Indy win in his first attempt. He only led nine laps this year for his second victory. However it was good enough to raise his winning percentage to two-for-three, although they triumphs were 15 years apart.
â€¢ Briscoe rebounded from his first-lap spin to finish 12th with Fridayâ€™s one hour of practice his only time on the track during the entire month of May.
â€¢ All three Dale Coyne Racing cars were involved in a pit road incident that resulted in medical attention to two crewmembers. Tristan Vautier, James Davison, and Pippa Mann were crowded as they exited their boxes following the Carpenter-Servia caution. One crewmember was checked and released in the infield care center. The other was transported to Indiana University Medical Center for further evaluation and treatment to his ankle.
â€¢ Roger Penske joins Chip Ganassi as team owners who have won the Daytona 500 and Indy 500 in the same season. Ganassi drivers Jamie McMurray and Dario Franchitti were victorious in 2010. Joey Logano won Daytona driving for Penske in February.
â€¢ Ganassi joked on Friday â€œYou know, if he (Penske) wins the Indy 500 this year, heâ€™ll be the second guy in the club that wins Daytona and Indy in the same year.”
â€¢ Defending race winner Ryan Hunter-Reay had a quiet result finishing 15th.
â€¢ Saavedra was treated for a leg contusion after his late-race crash.
â€¢ Alex Taglianiâ€™s car fired on the grid but had trouble getting his car into gear before finally pulling away on the parade laps. He finished 17th.
â€¢ Connor Daly had a small fire and mechanical trouble during the pace laps and never took the green flag.
â€¢ No cars became airborne and flipped after a crash, as they had during the weeks leading up to the 500.
â€¢ Five-time Brickyard 400 winner Jeff Gordon drove the pace car. He then flew to Charlotte to compete in the NASCAR Coca Cola 600 that evening.
â€¢ Past Motor Week LIVE! program guests in the field were Kimball in third, Rahal in fifth, Pippa Mann in 22nd and Karam in 32nd.
Patrick Reynolds is a former professional NASCAR mechanic who hosts Motor Week LIVE! Mondays 7pm ET/ 4pm PT onwww.racersreunionradio.com