One off winners: Juan Pablo Montoya – 2000 Indy 500
It seems absurd to call Juan Pablo Montoya a one off winner, but that’s what he is. Indy 500 starts, one. Indy 500 wins, one. Dominant? Absolutely. It earned him a place or two in the record books too.
By Andy Hallbery
Juan Montoya was a relative unknown in America, but the Colombian sure quickly made a name for himself Stateside. Having won the 1998 European F3000 Championship F1 was his next goal, and he was test driver with Williams. Also testing one day at Monza was Target Chip Ganassi’s Champ Car star Alex Zanardi. Chip was on hand, so with Juan in action, and knowing that Zanardi was heading to F1, Chip’s immediate reaction to JPM was “I want to sign him.” So the swap was done, and Montoya headed Stateside to compete in the CART World Series for 1999, Zanardi to F1.
Seven wins later, in his rookie year, Montoya was champion. The Year 2000 brought a new challenge. As well as defending his CART title, now with Toyota power, Ganassi decided to head to Indy for the 500 with drivers Montoya and Jimmy Vasser. In black and white, that reads so simple. At the time it was far from it.
It was a time of war in American open-wheel racing, CART vs the Indy Racing League. The great divide was written about far too much – so much so it felt like it became more important than the racing itself.
Ganassi was the first to cross the line, taking his drivers Jimmy Vasser and Montoya to Indy for the 500, fresh off of the back of four straight CART championship titles, and dovetailing running the Champ Car Lola-Toyota, with a month of May in the IRL G-Force Panoz Oldsmobile Aurora – a car Montoya didn’t like at all.
In 1999 I interviewed JPM. It was, without doubt, the hardest interview I’ve ever done. His longest answer to a question was “Yes, I think so.”
Combine the politics of a CART champion going to Indy, plus Montoya’s perceived “Aloofness/Arrogance/Nonchalance” (delete as you will). The racing media, with their focus on the politics rather than the racing, lapped it all up.
Montoya took it all in his stride. The Saturday before the Indy 500 – the day before the big race as a matter of fact – the defending champion was on CART duty at Nazareth, and finished fourth.
Then he arrived at Indy said little, slapped a “John Deere Tractor” sticker on the inside of the G-Force cockpit – a move of contempt, but great fodder for the press. Then went out, led 167 of 200 laps, and won his one and only start in the Indy 500.
However, Montoya’s 2000 Indy 500 win elevated him right up in the history books.
Are you ready for a stat attack? Besides Graham Hill, he is the only person to have won the Monaco Grand Prix and the Indy 500. In the CART record books only JPM and Nigel Mansell won the CART title in their rookie year.
He has also competed at Indy in all three levels; F1, IndyCar and NASCAR, and but for a pitlane speeding penalty would have won the Brickyard 400 too. He has also finished no lower than fourth in any of the disciplines there.
He, Mario Andretti and Dan Gurney are the only people to win in F1, NASCAR, IndyCar. Pretty good company!
He also won races in his rookie seasons in IndyCar, F1, Grand-Am (Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona no less) and NASCAR.
Back to his Indy 500 win, his attitude continued. A frenzied press wanted a quote, just one, where Montoya belittled the Indy Racing League, and comment on the fact that he turned up, strapped in, won at a canter and fuelled the political fire.
That’s not Juan’s style. He shrugged it all off. Two quotes stand out: “It’s just a race”, he said after sipping the milk, and “I’m paid to race, not to speak.” However, the significance of what he and Target Chip Ganassi had done that day was not lost on him. “My face is no on the trophy. That won’t change.”
It was an historic day, and if he and Jacques Villeneuve team up and win the Le Mans 24 Hours one day, the Triple Crown for the pair of them would be complete.