- Jul 23, 2014
Fifteen years after his first victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Juan Pablo Montoya is a champion at the Brickyard once again, after winning the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 - and in contrast to his dominating first victory in 2000, the second win was a hard-fought battle over early adversity and a frantic final fifteen lap sprint against his teammate.
The race began with trouble before the green flag was thrown. Veteran Alex Tagliani had trouble getting his car into gear from the start, but Conor Daly's race was over with an engine fire before he ever turned a lap in his second Indy 500. Then the race's first caution came out before the field completed two corners, as young Sage Karam and Takuma Sato were involved in a crash. Karam was giving defending winner Ryan-Hunter Reay room on the inside, but Sato attempted a risky outside move to the outside of Karam at the exit of the first corner, causing him to clip Karam and turn the 20-year-old sophomore into the wall, ending his race. After being checked out, the brazen Karam voiced his displeasure over Sato's driving via Twitter.
Sato continued on, but would lose several laps in the process due to extensive repairs. Meanwhile, Ryan Briscoe, substituting for the injured James Hinchcliffe, was spun in a separate incident after being clipped by James Davison.
In that caution came what should have been the first dagger in Montoya's race. Under caution, Montoya was hit from behind by Simona de Silvestro, returning for her fifth Indy 500, and the two suffered damage that would cause them to pit for damage. Montoya had a new rear wing assembly installed without losing a lap, but he would end up as low as 30th place in the exchange.
Fifty laps of green-flag racing, dominated by the polesitter Scott Dixon, his Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Tony Kanaan, and Penske's newest driver Simon Pagenaud was not too far behind. One-fifth into the race came the first round of pit stops, and what should have been the second dagger in Montoya's run - when he overshot his mark in the pit stall and lost five seconds on his pit stop and tons of track position.
As Dixon, Kanaan, and Pagenaud continued to lead, another caution flew when short track specialist Bryan Clauson crashed out on lap 63, running wide enough to get out of the groove and crash into the turn 4 wall. For the next several laps, Pagenaud, Dixon, and Kanaan would continue to lead up front, swapping the lead every other lap it seemed - now joined by Will Power, reigning IndyCar Series champion and winner of the Grand Prix of Indianapolis two weeks ago.
By the half-way mark, Montoya had climbed back up into the top ten. Also making a rapid ascent was the Ganassi Racing car of Charlie Kimball, who turned the fastest lap of the race as the only driver to hit the 226 MPH average, as did Graham Rahal, who was second at the Indianapolis GP and trying to give Honda a much-needed victory at the Indianapolis 500. On lap 112 came the third caution, caused by local favorite Ed Carpenter and veteran Oriol Servia tangling at Turn 1.
A scary moment came during the next round of pit stops, when Pippa Mann clipped her Dale Coyne Racing teammate James Davison in an awkward pit road accident and sent Davison into the path of Tristan Vautier's mechanics Daniel Jang and Greg Senerius. Senerius was released from the infield care center shortly after. Jang was transported to Methodist Hospital with an injury to his right ankle. Twelve laps of caution flag running later, Montoya was now solidly in the top five on the restart, getting as high as 2nd before the next caution, which came out shortly after the next round of pit stops.
That caution was caused when Tony Kanaan spun and crashed on his own on lap 153. He had requested slight adjustments to his car due to problems with understeer, and those changes may have been enough to upset the car. It was at that moment that Kimball came out of the pits just ahead of the leading pack, and held the lead when the race restarted with 40 to go. But he would quickly down the order, and on lap 166, Montoya, who had passed Kimball a couple of laps earlier, then got around Dixon to lead for the first time.
Two more interruptions came when Takuma Sato, who had by now rallied back to only one lap down, was clipped by Gabby Chaves, leaving a large piece of debris off of Sato's car lying in Turn 2. That was easy enough to clean. The next mess was much harder to clean.
Jack Hawksworth tagged Sebastian Saavedra at the exit of turn four, triggering a chain reaction that also collected rookie Stefano Coletti. All three were out of the race in a spectacular crash, but all three cars stayed planted right-side up. Coletti and Hawksworth were completely fine, but Saavedra needed assistance getting out of his stricken car - a contusion to his right foot turned out to be the extent of his injuries. A lengthy yellow flag period set up a fifteen lap sprint to the finish, with Will Power leading his teammate Montoya and Scott Dixon. Pagenaud, who had been so strong all race long, fell out of contention with front wing damage inflicted just before the caution on lap 176.
In the next fifteen laps, the lead would change hands seven times. Will Power seemed to have the advantage, after making wing adjustments that gave him more straight-line speed at the expense of overall driving comfort. With just three laps to go, Montoya passed Power for the lead on the frontstretch, and was now tasked with holding off not just Power, but a rapidly-charging Kimball over the next three laps. The last lap saw the lapped car of Justin Wilson break the flow up just enough to keep Montoya's rivals at bay, and despite a last draft-assisted push from Power, it was Juan Pablo Montoya who triumphed in the end, winning for the second time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway by .1046 seconds - the fourth-closest finish in Indy history.
"It was awesome," Montoya said in Victory Circle after the race. "This is bigger than the other one. This is what Indy car racing is all about, racing down to the wire." Last year, Montoya was fifth after a thirteen-year hiatus, competing in Formula 1 and NASCAR Sprint Cup competition.
Completing the top five behind Montoya, Power, and Kimball, Scott Dixon finished fourth, and Graham Rahal was fifth, the highest-ranked Honda driver once again. Marco Andretti ran a solid sixth, ahead of Castroneves, whose bid for a fourth Indy win fell short. Pagenaud recovered from his late damage to finish tenth. Gabby Chaves took Rookie of the Year honors with his sixteenth place finish.
But as was the case in 2000, when he led 167 of 200 laps and crushed the field in his first win, the eyes of the racing world turn back to the now older, more mature, but still so supremely talented Juan Pablo Montoya, now a two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500.