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The Callahan Report: Dreams fulfilled: Montoya wins Indy for Ganassi

28 May 2000

By Terry Callahan
Motorsports Editor, The Auto Channel

INDIANAPOLIS: The buildup for the first Indianapolis 500 of the new millennium was a long and yawing experience. That all changed when the green flag dropped. After a rain-delay of more than three hours, 33 of the best drivers in the world were ready to go racing in front of the largest crowd in motorsports . . . they raced for second place most of the day.

Chip Ganassi, owner of the Target/Chip Ganassi Racing Team, left the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 1995 with an unfulfilled dream. He wanted to be a winning car owner at the Indianapolis 500.

When the Indy Racing League was formed by Tony George, president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, it appeared that Ganassi may never see his dream turn into reality. George formed the League because he wanted to make open wheel racing less expensive, providing access to Indy at a lower cost.

Ganassi continued to run on the big-budget CART FedEx Championship Series circuit. The Indy Racing League took the spotlight at Indianapolis. The two series run different equipment and different rules.

Missing the prestige of the worlds richest auto race, Ganassi purchased Indy Racing League cars for his two star drivers from the CART series. Juan Montoya and Jimmy Vasser would race at Indy. Ganassi hoped between the two, his Indy dream could be realized. It was . . . in dominating fashion.

Juan Montoya, who had never seen a race day crowd at Indy until Sunday, took the lead of the 84th running of the Indy classic on lap 27. He never looked back. Montoya became the first rookie in 34 years to win the Indianapolis 500. Graham Hill won the 500" in 1966.

This is the biggest moment of my life, Ganassi said, putting an exclamation point on how important the Indy 500 is to the racing world. Juan is the most popular driver in the world right now. This feels really good.

While Ganassis dream has been fulfilled, others were shattered as the laps rolled away.

Greg Rays dream turned to a nightmare on lap 65. The defending Indy Racing NorthernLight Series champion had a high exit off of turn two, and scraped the outside wall. His suspension was heavily damaged. Ray was the only driver who was able to stay with Montoya in the early running.

It was getting pretty gusty out there and I think that was it, said Ray. There was nothing I could do.

Rays team made repairs to his suspension and sent him back into the action more than 80 laps down. After turning only two laps at speed, Ray slammed the turn two wall once again. His race-car was destroyed, along with his dream. Indy will wait another year for Greg Ray.

Another dream was lost in Greg Rays accident. Al Unser Jr. drove through the debris from the accident. Unsers bid for a third win at Indianapolis would also have to wait another year. His radiator was damaged. He returned to action after repairs were made. He was fourteen laps behind the leaders. He exited the race for good on lap 101.

Its a shame Greg Ray hit the fence over there and I picked up some debris and it punctured my radiator, said Unser. But it is great to be back at Indianapolis. I am happy to be racing here again.

Unser won the race in 1992 and 1994. This was Unsers first race at Indianapolis since his 1994 victory. He failed to qualify for the 1995 race and then ran the CART circuit until this season.

The 2000 Indianapolis 500 was the first time two women had raced in the same event. Those two capable drivers left the race at the same time. Lyn St. James and Sarah Fisher made contact with each other in the first turn on the 73rd lap. Both drivers hit the outside wall and were out of competition. St. James and Fisher were uninjured physically, but their dreams also were shattered.

Sarah was trying to get by Lyn (St. James) and some clown went down on the inside and tried to make it a threesome, a disappointed Derrick Walker, Fishers car owner, explained. It was nothing she did wrong. She had nowhere to go.

Somebody tried to make a move in one and there wasnt enough room, said St. James. I wasnt going to go into the gray.

There were many challengers for the powerful Chip Ganassi Racing Team at Indianapolis. On this day, none were capable of beating the team that has won the last four CART FedEx Championships. The Ganassi Team proved to the world why they have achieved such success in racing. They brought all their knowledge to Indy and took home the biggest prize in motorsports.

Buddy Lazier was a very good challenger late in the race. Lazier had his dream come true at the Indy 500 in 1996. His dream fell one spot short Sunday. He finished in second place, seven seconds behind Montoya.

Anybody can win. In this series, it is all contained cost-wise, said Lazier. It shows that a new team is capable of winning in this series. We had a good run, but they were better. Someday I hope to drink the milk again.

Indy veteran team owner A.J. Foyt had two cars in the top five. Eliseo Salazar finished third and Jeff Ward finished fourth. With Foyts knowledge of racing at Indianapolis, both drivers are certain their dream day will come if they stay with Foyt.

Sundays dream day ended in fitting fashion. As Montoya pulled into victory lane, the rains began falling once again. The skies stopped their fury just long enough to fulfill the dreams of Juan Montoya and Chip Ganassi Racing.

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