INDIANAPOLIS — The only thing that slowed Juan Montoya on Sunday in the Indianapolis 500 was the weather.
After a three-hour delay caused by morning showers, the CART champion from Colombia made short work of the best the rival Indy Racing League could throw at him. A rookie by Indy 500 standards, Montoya led 167 of the 200 laps in a Olds-powered G Force to win the 84th 500 for Chip Ganassi's Target team in front of 400,000 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Now that he has conquered all there is of American open-wheel racing, he will probably head for Formula One in the next year or two.
Last year, as a CART rookie, he was just as dominant, winning seven races to become the youngest champion of the more established series.
Sunday's victory made Montoya the first rookie winner since world Formula One champion Graham Hill of England won in 1966. He averaged 167.607 mph to take the checkered flag by 7.184 seconds over 1996 Indy winner Buddy Lazier. Another South American, Eliseo Salazar of Chile, finished third.
Of the 167 laps that Montoya led, 142 were successive. Both are rookie records.
The other CART driver, Jimmy Vasser, finished seventh in another car Ganassi purchased for this one race. It is estimated that Ganassi spent $2.4 million--with the help of sponsors Target and Budweiser--to bring Montoya and Vasser to Indy.
Montoya got part of it back when he collected $1,235,690 from a record Indy 500 purse of $9,476,505 at Sunday night's Victory Banquet.
"One time I thought I was going to lap Jimmy [Vasser], so I called Chip and told him to tell Jimmy to move over," said Montoya, laughing. "And he said, 'Uh, Juan, he's the leader.' "
So Montoya dispatched him in the same manner he did everyone else, sweeping by in the third turn of lap 180 to take a lead he never gave up. Lazier also passed Vasser, who slipped back to seventh when he had to make a late stop for fuel.
Lazier was the only driver who seemed capable of challenging Montoya after pole-sitter Greg Ray led the first 26 laps. He had the day's fastest lap of 218.494 mph two laps from the end in a futile attempt to catch Montoya's flying red machine.
"I wish there were 10 more laps, but they've only run 200 [laps] for 84 runnings of this race," said Ron Hemelgarn, owner of Lazier's Dallara. "But today I definitely wish there were 10 more laps. Buddy was catching him."
It may have looked like he was catching him, and he may have cut the margin a second or two each lap, but it was the same every time there was a restart, or every time someone came up to challenge him--Montoya would kick it up another notch and motor away.
"When Lazier got close to me, we were OK because we knew we had something in our bag," said the winner.
Montoya had the fastest car, got the best fuel mileage and had the fastest pit stops, an impossible combination to beat.
Ganassi also said that the rain delay helped his two drivers.
"We went over to Nazareth [Pa.] for a CART race Saturday and came back this morning," he said. "The rain helped the guys get some rest. It actually benefited us because it gave us some time to relax after all the hustle going back and forth to the other race."
Montoya finished fourth and Vasser seventh Saturday in a race postponed from last month because of snow.
The IRL tried to keep a happy face despite the overwhelming domination by the CART champion.
"Montoya wins wherever he goes," said Jeff Ward, who finished fourth. "Montoya had a victory over everybody today, but we [Indy Racing Northern Light series] saved face because Buddy [Lazier] did a good job."
Said Scott Sharp, the 10th-place finisher: "People should expect them to come in and win here. They spend as much money in one race as other teams do in a year. So they should win."
Because of a constant threat that rain might halt the race, the pace never slackened. All of the first 70 laps were run at a record pace. Montoya's 60-lap average of 207.101 mph broke the longest-standing speed record on the books, 176.627 by A. J. Foyt in 1974.
"Every lap, I had to keep pushing," said Montoya. "You've got to stay aggressive. It was very clean. Every single driver in the IRL behaved like professional race car drivers. The only close call I had was when Lyn St. James nearly put me in the grass."
Lazier was not so pleased with his fellow IRL drivers.
"I kind of hoped the IRL guys would stick together," he said. "Juan would be able to get a run on them and be able to pass. Then I'd try the same thing and get hung up.
"I really lost my run one time. I got stuck. I got hammered, and they were IRL drivers. When Salazar got by me, I lost my momentum, huge. I was running 216, 217 in sixth gear, and I had to drop to fourth gear. Eliseo [Salazar] drove me into the fence, which was really disappointing. I was trying to pass him in Turn 1, but I knew if I went down there we might rack up a bunch of cars. I was especially disappointed."