Montoya drives for a 1st: 2nd win on Indy's courses


Auto Racing

September 30, 2001|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

Juan Montoya, by almost anyone's measurement, is a special driver.

He won the Championship Auto Racing Teams title as a rookie in 1999.

He won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2000.

He won the Italian Grand Prix two weeks ago as a Formula One rookie and is fifth in the points race.

Today, he will try to win the SAP United States Grand Prix and become the only driver to win on both the famed 2.5-mile Indy oval and its 2.6-mile road course.

"First, I have to do it," Montoya, 26, said during a conference call. "But I think it would be something really special. Imagine that -- that would be really nice, especially, you know, [because] I won Indy in my rookie year, and to get the win in the U.S. Grand Prix in my rookie year, it would be just fantastic.

"But, from saying it to doing it is a long way."

Though Michael Schumacher has won the Formula One championship, Montoya may be this race's favorite, from a number of viewpoints.

Though he is from Colombia, he considers Indianapolis his "home" track. "My CART team was based here," he said. "My family lives here."

And like Schumacher, who won last year's first Formula One at Indy, Montoya has won at Indy. He isn't intimidated by the three-time champion's bravado. At the start of the season, they had more than one confrontation on the race track.

Schumacher fumed, but Montoya didn't back down.

"We didn't talk it over," Montoya said. "There is no relationship between us. There is not much conversation with any driver in Formula One. People are very reserved here, and, I think, the only thing I can say is as soon as they see [someone] who could be a threat, they have got to react to it."

You could almost hear the shrug in his voice.

Even now, after Schumacher has won his 50th victory, Montoya seems unimpressed.

"I think he's always been in really good teams, and he is a very good driver," Montoya said. "So, I think that is why he has got them, and I'm sure he's going to get a lot more before he retires."

Montoya is expecting more before he retires, too.

Maybe one today.

"We have strong, fast cars," he said. "I think we have great power in the car. Our engine is really good. So, I think it is a track that is going to suit us quite well."

An understanding

When Dale Earnhardt Jr. went to see the Tom Hanks movie, Cast Away, he had immediate empathy for Hanks' character and his friend "Wilson," the volleyball that Hanks' character created as his only companion on the island.

"I thought Cast Away was a good movie," Earnhardt said. "It sums up the feeling I've had since I've lost my father. I feel very much by myself."

He thought of Cast Away, he said, during a test recently at Darlington, S.C., when he radioed his crew but got no reply.

"I just told 'em, `If that's the way you're going to be, I'll just carry Wilson with me.' "

His crew took the words to heart, and when Earnhardt got in his car at Dover, Del., last Sunday morning, he found a surprise.

"Wilson was there in my car," he said. "I don't know who put it there. But it made me smile, and it brought us some luck."

He didn't say what insight he shared with Wilson on the way to winning the race.

CART adds race

A decade ago, CART left Denver because the race went bankrupt. But now, with private funding, CART will return in 2002 with the Grand Prix of Denver.

The race will be conducted on a 1.65-mile temporary circuit.

"The passion the people of Denver have for sports of all types makes this a great opportunity for CART," said Joe F. Heitzler, the circuit's chairman and chief executive.

Kroenke Sports, owners and operators of the NBA Nuggets and NHL Avalanche, as well as the Pepsi Center, and Colorado businessman George Gillett will partner with the Grand Prix Association of Long Beach, a subsidiary of Dover Downs Entertainment, to put on the race.

What penalty box?

NASCAR has a penalty box. It's where drivers are sent when they get too rowdy on the race track. Driver Ricky Rudd is wondering why NASCAR didn't use it last weekend.

Rudd was leading the MBNA Cal Ripken Jr. 400 at Dover, Del., with 56 laps to go when he tried to pass Rusty Wallace. Wallace was attempting to keep himself from being lapped and seemed to lean into Rudd. Rudd spun coming out of Turn 4 and was lucky not to hit anything. He was able to keep going and finished third.

"Dale Jarrett and myself were running one-two, and I was pulling away," Rudd said. "That's the part that's hard to take, that on a day when Rusty was having an off day. ... I can't even think of one instance when a lapped car was allowed to intentionally take out the leader and nothing was done. Over the history of time, I can't think of a single case."

Rudd, who lost the potential for at least 25 additional points because of the situation, had left Dover steaming. He spent a day working on his farm to cool off. But at midweek, he was still riled. Even though he said by phone, "That's way behind me," the subject seemed to be catching up as he talked.

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