BY DEAN HOCKNEY
INDIANAPOLIS – It wasn’t pretty, but it was effective. With a 15 year break that included stops in Formula One and NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya returned to the winners circle that first made him famous – the Indianapolis 500. Montoya earned his second victory at the Yard of Bricks despite an incident on lap seven and a bad pit stop that put him in 30th position on lap 41.
“I don’t know what to say; this is too much!” said Montoya, who won the Indy 500 during his rookie season in 2000. “This is what racing in IndyCar is all about, awesome racing all the way down to the wire.”
After the poor start, Montoya used the final 159 laps to roar through the field and battle fellow Team Penske teammate Will Power and Chip Ganassi drivers Scott Dixon and Charlie Kimball to the checkered flag. Leading just nine laps total, Montoya regained the lead on lap 197 and edged Power across the bricks by a 0.1046 of a second – the fourth closest finish in the 99 year history of the Indy 500.
“That was fun racing,” said the 19th two-time Indy 500 winner. “Probably the best racing. Between Will and Dixon, we have a lot of respect for each other. We understand the risk and we understand when they got you. So it makes it fun.”
“I just had too much push when he got by,” said Power. “I had to lift on that last lap. He was definitely better when he got behind me. That’s why he got the run. Anywhere else I’d be happy with second. But here…”
The Colombian almost lost his shot early in the race. The race fell under a caution flag on lap one thanks to a crash between Takuma Sato and Sage Karam.
“I don’t know what Sato’s doing,” said Karam. “Kind of a bonehead move. He sees me and (Ryan) Hunter-Reay side by side and the first lap he’s trying to make it three wide. I just don’t get it. I mean, just a very stupid move on his part. It ruins a lot of people’s races.”
During the yellow, Simona de Silvestro ran into Montoya, forcing the eventual winner to pit for new rear wheel guards. On lap 41, he slid through his pit, forcing his crew to push him into place.
“That was an easy race. But this was a lot of work today,” said Montoya. “I mean, with Simona in back of me; that’s what happens when you qualify bad. You find yourself with the wrong crowd.
The win also gave Roger Penske a record-extending 16th Indy 500 win as an owner.
“Our guys stayed in there, and Montoya coming from all the way back,” said Penske. “I’ll tell you, you give that guy the bit and put it in his mouth, as you know, he doesn’t give up. “I’m just so thrilled for everyone who works for us, all the people who support us and all these race fans – what a great day.”
Despite winning the Indy 500 as a rookie 15 years ago, this was only Montoya’s third 500 – he finished fifth last year. During the years in between he drove at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on the road course in Formula One and on the oval in the NASCAR Brickyard 400. With Sunday’s victory, he set a record for most years between Indy 500 wins; Gordon Johncock previously held the mark with nine years between wins in 1973 and 1982.
The 200-lap race saw six caution periods for 47 laps, including five incidents involving a total of 11 cars. Sebastian Saavedra, driver of the No. 17 AFS Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet, sustained a contusion to his right foot when his car was hit in the side by Stefano Coletti in the No. 4 KV Racing Technology Chevrolet. Saavedra must be evaluated before being cleared to race again.
2013 Indianapolis 500 winner Tony Kanaan crashed on his own on Lap 152, but walked away and lauded the safety of the cars.
“It (crashing) is a very unfortunate thing to happen to me,” Kanaan said. “But if I had to prove that we don’t flip cars anymore, here it is for the critics. (I’m) heartbroken but OK.”
Dale Coyne Racing crewman Daniel Jang, part of the No. 18 Tristan Vautier crew, was transported to IU Health Methodist Hospital with a right ankle injury when clipped by teammate James Davison’s car after it collided with the third Coyne car, driven by Pippa Mann, while exiting its pit.
The 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 is scheduled for May 29, 2016.