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MONTOYA GOES FROM 30TH TO FIRST TO WIN THE 99TH INDIANAPOLIS 500
Author: Mark W. Theisen
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 - BroncosPitstop.com
Photo by Brady Whitesel. Copyright 2015 - BroncosPitstop.com
May 24th 2015 -      INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA May 24, 2015:     His career took off at the Indianapolis 500 with a win as a rookie in 2000 and after racing in various racing circuits around the world returned to his roots last season with a 5th place finish.  Today the colorful 39 year-old Columbian was not to be denied turning in a masterful drive, recovering from a mishap early in the race that put him 30th in the field to edge his Team Penske teammate Will Power to win the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500.
     In a race that came down to who wanted to drive their car the farthest on the edge it was the seasoned veteran, Montoya, who knew what to do, when to do it and had the patience to recover from his early mishap involving Simona de Silvestro to win the 500 for the second time in only his third attempt, a remarkable 66% winning percentage.
     The win gave team owner Roger Penske his 16th triumph in open wheel’s biggest event and the first for him since Helio Castroneves won his third Indy 500 in 2009.
     This edition of the 500 pitted Chevrolet with 16 entries against Honda with 17th and with the deck stacked in Chevrolets’ favor with not only the Penske team but the teams of Chip Ganassi and KV Racing Technology it was really no contest as the battle of wits and courage came down the Penske and Ganassi drivers at the end with Montoya and Power emerging from the final pit stop with the adjustments to their cars that carried them to a one-two finish.
     A visibly tire Montoya, in victory circle said, “It’s just too much, I don’t know what to say.  I have to give all the credit to my crew, they hung in there all race long and we just kept getting better.” 
     The race was not even a quarter-of-a-lap old with pole-sitter Scott Dixon getting the jump on Power and another Penske car, driven by Simon Pagenaud going into the first turn when Takuma Sato tried to make it three wide going into the second turn clipping the side of Sage Karam’s car sending the later hard into the outside wall between turn one and two with Ryan Briscoe and James Davison taking evasive action to avoid any contact. This was the first time since 2010 that a yellow flag was waived on the first lap.
     Karam was livid with Sato for such and early risky move that put him out of the race before even one lap could be recorded after being a strong contender all month long in a Ganassi owned car.
      As the field set up for the restart de Silvestro ran into the back of Montoya’s car which left part of his wing flapping in the wind as he went around to the pits to have the complete section replaced.
     He returned to the race in the 30th position when the race resumed on lap 13 with Dixon in control.  Sato’s A.J. Foyt Racing team was able to make repairs to his car but he was two laps down to the field when the green came back out.
     Dixon and his Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, the 2013 Indy 500 winner, traded the lead during the first 35 laps before the first round of green flag pit stops commenced. Dixon and Kanaan pitted give the lead to Pagenaud and then Power lead one lap before making his first stop allowing Montoya to take the lead by being able to run a few laps long because of getting fuel while his wing was replaced.
     When the pit stop cycle completed Montoya was in the top 15th and when Bryan Clauson made contact with the SAFER Barrier in turn four on lap 64 to bring out the second caution flag of the race and the ensuing pit stops Montoya was 10th.
     When the green flag waived after the Clauson accident it was Pagenaud leading Dixon and Kanaan and the pair then traded the lead several times between laps 73 and 98 when another series of pit stops began.
     With this round of pit stops drivers and teams began to work on the downforce of their car, 100 laps down and the track now changing due to rubber from the first 100 laps and the increases in air and track temperatures set the strategy and adjustments into motion.
     Pagenaud, Power and Dixon continued to swap the lead and looked like the cars to beat as the cars of Ed Carpenter and Oriol Servia made contact in the first turn.  Both cars made contact with the SAFER Barrier to bring out the third caution of the race that sidelined both cars from further action “My thought is there’s probably some fault both ways,” said Carpenter the 2013 and 2014 Indy 500 pole winner.  “At the end of the day, both our days are over not matter whose fault it really was.”
    It was a terrible month for Carpenter who destroyed his primary car a week ago Saturday during qualifications that set off a wholesale change to car set-ups for the 500.
     Dixon was in control on lap 149 with Montoya all the way up to third when the next series of pit stops commenced.  During this cycle Kanaan opted to made significant front and rear win changes to his car to put more downforce on the front end of the car.  The call was his as he observed changes to his competition that made their cars better than his.
     That decision came back to bite him on lap 153 when his car snapped around on him and into the fourth turn SAFER Barrier sidelining a car that has led 30 laps of the race to that point.
     “It’s the win here, or nothing,” said Kanaan, “I went for it and the car changed more with the adjustments than I thought.  I asked for the changes, the crew did what I asked and it was up to me to make them work.  I felt I needed to do what I did in order to counteract what the others were doing.”
     Alex Tagliani, by virtue of staying on the track during the Kanaan accident pit stops led laps 153 and 154 before having to make his stop and when the green flag came back out on lap 158 it was Charlie Kimball in the lead.
     Kimball had been the final car to make a pit stop prior to the spin by Kanaan and thus inherited the lead when Tagliani stopped and was in front until Dixon took the lead again on lap 163.
     Montoya took the lead for the first time in race traffic on lap 165 and now looked like he was a driver to be reckoned with.
     Debris on the track on lap 168 brought out the caution for the 5th time and the resulting pit stop became pivotal for the drivers running in the top 5.
     Wholesale changes were made to both Power’s and Montoya’s cars front wing while Dixon kind of stayed with the status quo and in the final laps of the race that decision would come back to haunt him.
     The race was put under the caution flag for the final time on lap 176 when the cars of Jack Hawksworth and Sebastian Saavedra made contact in the fourth turn collecting the car of Stefano Coletti in the process ending the day for all three cars.
    Track cleanup of the debris from the accident took 9 laps and set up a 15 lap shootout to win the 500.
     Dixon led lap 187 and then it became a Montoya-Power show as Dixon’s car began to fall off the result of not being as aggressive on his final adjustments as the others.
     Power led laps 188 through 191 with Montoya leading lap 192 before Power got back round but on lap 197 Montoya asserted his prowess and powered his way to the lead and then held off his teammate’s challenge on the final lap to come away with his second 500 win and in the process denying Power his goal of winning the 500 – this time!
     Power had to settle for second while Kimball, another Ganassi driver came on to take third ahead of Dixon, who was trying to win the 500 for the second time after leading a race high 84 laps before his car got so loose he couldn’t hang with the leaders at the end.  The top four finishers were in Chevrolet powered cars.
     Graham Rahal finished fifth and for the third straight Verizon IndyCar series race was the highest finishing Honda powered car followed by another Honda powered machine driven by Marco Andretti.
     Castroneves finished seventh;  JR Hildebrand, eighth; Josef Newgarden, ninth and Pagenaud tenth after leading 35 laps of the race only to have had late race contact with a car in front of him that damaged his front wing enough to affect the car’s handling characteristics.
     “We changed so much front wing today, you would not have believed it,” said Montoya in the post-race interview.  “But the result was that the car was so well balanced at the end and that is what you need here, the best for last.  The team that makes the least mistakes usually wins this race and despite out early problem, we were right on the rest of the race.”
     Montoya credits Penske with reviving his career after spending time in Formula One and NASCAR following his brief initial IndyCar experience with Ganassi Racing.  “I’m glad he call me,” said Montoya.  “Many questioned as to why he did it but he wants to win and I want to be part of that and I hope I began to repay him today, for the confidence shown in me last year to give me a ride.”
     “Montoya coming all the way form the back,” said Penske, “I’ll tell you, you give that guy the bit and put it in his mouth and he doesn’t give up.  It’s a great day for Team Penske, who all four of its cars finish in the top 10.
     “I gave it all I had,” said Power.  “I thought we made all the right adjustments but I developed a bit of understeer at the end and I had to lift off the throttle a bit at the end and he (Montoya) was able to get enough of a lead.  I want to win this race so bad but I’m also glad that if I could not win the race, at least someone on our team did.”
     “When I got the lead I probably pushed a bit too hard and hurt my tires,” said Kimball, who recorded his best ever 500 finish in 5 starts.
     “No changes on our final pit stop hurt us,” said Dixon.  “We had be in front so much and got to the front so easy it’s hard to change what is working for you but without any changes we developed some handling issues at the end and it cost us.  We also had to fight an overheating issue near the end of the race.  It was still a good day but not what it could have been.”
     “Honda has made great strides since the beginning of the season,” said Rahal, who has become the face of Honda.  “We knew they (Chevrolet) has us on power so we just have to put the best handling car on the track that we can, make the right adjustments all race long and stay out of trouble.  We were able to do that three straight races and deal with what we have while working to make it all better.  As I have said all along my dad (team co-owner Bobby Rahal and an Indy 500 winner) is the best race strategist in the business.  I just need to do what he calls and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
     Marco Andretti, whose Andretti Autosports team worked all month long to give him a good handling car echoed Rahal.  “We just need to be consistent until we find the speed,” said Marco Andretti.  “After each practice I told our guys what the car needed and we just kept working on it to the point that we got it to today.  It’s not a win but were moving in the right direction.
     Andretti driver Ryan Hunter-Reay, last year’s Indy 500 winner finished 15h after being as low as 27th but recovering nicely at the end of the race.
    A lap 116 pit road accident between the Dale Coyne Racing team cars of James Davison and Tristan Vautier injured two crewman.  Greg Seneruis as checked at the infield Emergency Care Center and released while Daniel Jang was taken to Methodist Hospital for further evaluation of a right ankle injury after been run over when the cars collided during a simultaneous pit stop.
     Gabby Chaves was the highest finishing rookie in the race placing 16th while late replace replacement for the injured James Hinchcliffe, Ryan Briscoe finished 12th after getting just two of practice in the car prior to the race.
     Today’s 500 had the fourth-closest margin of victory at 0.1042 of a second, only the 1992, 2006 and 2014 races had closer finishes.  Montoya’s feat of two Indy 500 wins in three starts is second only to his teammate, Castroneves, who won his first two Indy 500’s and the 15 year’s between wins is the longest time span difference between wins.  A. J. Foyt took ten years to win his fourth in 1977 after winning number three in 1967.
      The nine total laps led by Montoya in today’s race is the third fewest by a winner.  Dan Wheldon led only one lap in 2011 and Joe Dawson led two in 1912.
     There were 37 lead changes in today’s race, second only to the record 68 set in 2013. 
     Montoya became the first driver to win twice on the Verizon IndyCar circuit in 2015 in six races and extended his series point lead to 25 over Power with Dixon third 60 points behind the leader as the series heads to Belle Island in Detroit for the season’s only doubleheader event next Sunday.