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Villeneuve and Montoya: Back to the future

Submitted by on May 8, 2014

PHCahier Mont Vill Oz 2001They both raced and won for Williams in F1, they were both IndyCar champions, and they both won the Indy 500. Now Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Montoya are returning to the Brickyard in 2014…

What do Jacques Villeneuve and Juan Montoya have in common? They both raced and won for Williams in Formula 1? Yes (Villeneuve won the World Champonship, too). They were both Indycar champions? Yes. They both won the Indy 500? Yes. Another, more up-to-date similarity is that both are returning to the Brickyard in 2014, having not raced open-wheel cars there since their wins – JV in 1995, JPM in 2000.

By Andy Hallbery

If the Indy 500 didn’t have enough story lines already, this may be the one that will grab headlines around the world, as two F1 stars return to Indianapolis as former winners of the famed 500. Montoya is back 14 years after his triumph, while Villeneuve, who raced there twice in 1994 and 95, with a second and a first place on his resume, returns after nearly two decades.

JV Indy 1If you stop and think about racing’s all-time greats, both Villeneuve and Montoya are a Le Mans win away from being right up there – and even Mario Andretti doesn’t have that. Montoya won the Monaco GP in 2003, Villeneuve the F1 World Championship in 1996. Both are IndyCar champions and Indy 500 winners. Montoya has won the Daytona 24 Hours and in NASCAR twice.

Let’s look back at their respective wins. Villeneuve’s victory is famous for so many things. The Penskes of Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr – so dominant the previous year – both failed to qualify. Villeneuve, at 24, was the youngest driver in the field and, most memorably, overcame a two-lap penalty for passing the pace car under yellow, to win. Thus, he won the Indy 505.

Ironically, the win came at the cost of Scott Goodyear, who himself was judged to have passed the pace car on a restart with nine laps left – too late to get back in contention, so he ignored the penalty.

“We did everything we could do to NOT win this race,” said Villeneuve in Victory Lane. “But when we did, it was very exciting.

“When I learned that I was two laps down, I swore a little bit,” he added. “I made two mistakes, once I stalled in the pits and another time I left too early. I knew on that last restart that Goodyear was going to get black-flagged. A regulation is a regulation.”

There was more controversy behind, with Bobby Rahal looking likely to pick up the win – until he too was penalised, for speeding in pitlane at three-quarter distance.

“We should have won that race,” says Rahal. “I was ahead of Jacques after that last stop and I felt I was in position to race for the lead. I can’t believe I got that penalty. My dashboard said 92mph and my crew said they had the same speed on their computers. Then, the officials claim I went 109. That’s B.S!” That’s an alleged 17mph over. Remember that number for later.

Montoya 500 milk IMS photoMontoya’s win came at the height of the CART versus IRL battle that in effect destroyed open-wheel racing in America. Chip Ganassi, in very much a one-off, took his CART team of reigning champion Montoya and Jimmy Vasser to Indy, prepared their new IRL cars, and went and dominated. That remains Montoya’s only Indy 500 start. He also looked odds on to win the NASCAR Brickyard 400 in 2009 after untterly dominating the race, but had a pitlane speeding penalty served on him late on. One that he reacted to just as Rahal had done to his in 1995!

On the team radio on hearing the news, Montoya, who had led 116 of the 160 laps and was cruising to an historic win, let his fury fly: “If they do this to me, I’m going to kill them,” he yelled. “There’s no way. I was on the green [dash light].
“Thank you, NASCAR, for screwing my day. We had it in the bag and they screwed us because I was not speeding. I swear on my children and my wife.”
His margin of sin that day in the pits? 0.16mph…

Cynics suggested that with Indy having had their faces rubbed in it with a CART team winning the Indy 500 nine years before, they weren’t about to let the same guy do it in NASCAR too. But hey, that’s racing!

It was certainly a punch in the face for the IRL when the Ganassi CART team came, saw and conquered in 2000. Montoya, though, treated it as a race, not a political battle. “We’re here like any other IRL team,” he said, as reigning CART champion. “We’re not here with a CART flag.”

But John Menard, one of the original IRL team owners, saw Montoya’s overwhelming victory as proof that the newer open-wheel series was not yet a match for CART.

“They raised the competition to a whole new level. It’s certainly going to raise some questions about the ability of the IRL teams to compete with CART. They were the best of the best; a very powerful team, a very organised team.”

Power JPM Rick Mears pic PENSKESo to 2014. Montoya, now in a Penske, surely has at least a shot at repeating his win? Incredibly, the Indy 500 race will be his first open-wheel oval race since he left CART in 2000.

“The oval side I am not worried about at all, to be honest with you,” Montoya told AUTOSPORT magazine.

“With seven years of NASCAR and my open-wheel experience before that, I’m pretty excited about going to the ovals. The one you want to win is an oval: you want to win the Indy 500. So I’m excited about that. Having the opportunity to be at Indy with Team Penske is going to be huge.”

Villeneuve feels the same way, having raced everything from Le Mans to NASCAR trucks, to World Rallycross since retiring from F1. Now, 42, he will be driving for Sam Schmidt Motorsport.

Villeneuve at Schmidt launch via video“If you have to win one race in the whole of your career, the Indy 500 is the one,” said the Canadian. “The discussions happened at the right time. I had been watching the IndyCars last year and it looked extremely exciting, to the point where I was angry and jealous that I wasn’t racing.

“I have so many wonderful memories of racing at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout my career, including my last appearance at the track in the Brickyard 400”, he added.

Special thanks to @IndyCar, Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Patsy White.

Follow @hallbean on twitter and at www.RomanceOfRracing.com

Leading image by The Cahier Archive.

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