Andretti opens Gateway for Montoya
18 September 2000
Juan Montoya scored his third win of the year in dominant fashion at the Gateway oval but only after Michael Andretti lost a certain victory when his engine blew.
Although the final result would suggest that CART's final visit to the 1.27-mile Gateway oval in St Louis was a rather one sided affair with Juan Montoya winning by eleven seconds and only one other car finishing on the same lap as the Colombian, the statistics merely hide the fact that Sunday's Motorola 300 was a gripping event that kept the crowd enthralled for every one of the 236 laps.
The opening 40 laps saw a sterling fight between Target/Chip Ganassi team-mates Montoya and Jimmy Vasser for the lead as Paul Tracy, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan battled for third position just a few car lengths behind. Pre-race talk of passing being almost impossible due to the Handford Mk 2 wing set-up proved wide of the mark as Vasser made attempt after attempt to wrest the lead from his team-mate.
Vasser finally made the move stick on lap 30 after the two had come within inches of one another on countless occasions although Montoya soon fought back, re-taking the place four laps later. Less than two seconds behind this pair, Kanaan put his Mo Nunn entered Reynard-Mercedes into third position as Tracy began to conserve fuel and Franchitti started encountering gear selection troubles that would eventually put him out of the race.
The main action behind the front five came from Michael Andretti who had jumped from 15th to sixth inside the first 40 laps and was now heading a train of almost ten cars, including Adrian Fernandez, Patrick Carpentier, Gil De Ferran and Max Papis. This train was soon catching the ailing Franchitti and when the Scotsman pulled into the pits for the first time on lap 45, Michael swept into fifth and was just four seconds behind the leader, bringing the chasing pack with him.
With no caution flags forthcoming, the first round of scheduled pit-stops took place under green flag conditions and it was here that the Newman-Haas team came into their own. Andretti and the closely following De Ferran came in together and despite some very swift pit work by the Penske crew, the red and white car was some way behind the black machine of Andretti when the two regained the track. Only in the following five laps did the magnitude of the stop become clear for as Montoya and Vasser made their stops and left the pit-lane, Michael was already into the first turn and away.
Taking the lead on lap 75, Andretti proceeded to pull away from his challengers at a staggering rate and by half distance only Montoya and Tracy were on the same lap as the leaders. The Newman-Haas Lola-Ford was working like a dream and when Andretti came up to lap the group that were battling for fourth all the way down to 15th, the car simply glided by with ease.
Tracy and Montoya continued to dispute second place but they were lapping almost a second a lap slower than Andretti and as the 150 lap mark approached, the black machine was breathing down their exhaust pipes. Not since Nigel Mansell did his disappearing act at Michigan in 1993 had CART seen this level of domination by a single driver.
The pace of the race was also astounding and as the second round stops approached on lap 170, it had been green flag running all the way. Considering his pace, it was surprising that Andretti was not the first man to pit and at one point, there were only half a dozen drivers within two laps of the leader.
However it was all about to come unglued for the leader and as the 200 lap mark approached, a faint trail of smoke began to emanate from the rear of the Andretti mount. As other drivers began to report a spattering of oil on their visors, the trail turned into a plume and as he crossed the start line to complete lap 195, Andretti's engine cried enough and the disconsolate American pulled to the side of the track.
Andretti's quickness of thought in pulling off the course meant that the race continued apace but as he trudged forlornly back to his pit-stall, 70,000 fans all shared a thought for him.
Montoya therefore inherited the lead although he still had Tracy stuck fast in his wheel tracks. Behind these two, no-one else was remotely in the picture.
The battle for the lead remained at boiling point until lap 209 when the chasing Team KOOL Green Reynard suddenly lost fifth gear and pitched Tracy sideways. The Canadian controlled the spin magnificently but was unable to prevent his right rear tyre from hitting the wall and puncturing, damaging his suspension beyond repair. This brought out the first, and only caution of the race and Montoya was now left with a clear run to victory lane.
Such was Montoya's pace that as he inherited the lead, only one other car on the lead lap as the Colombian was Carpentier who had managed to break away from the third place dice, as it was before Tracy retired, thanks to some excellent fuel mileage and some superb pit-work. Although his task appeared pointless, the Canadian driver set about reducing Montoya's 30 second lead in the final 20 laps and even though the Colombian was driving to conserve his car, Patrick took a full second per lap out of the leader in the final 30 tours and was easily the fastest man on the track as he came home to equal his career best finish.
Third place, a lap down, fell to Roberto Moreno who drove with patience and speed to usurp Cristiano Da Matta from the podium on the final run to the flag. After 300 miles of racing, positions three to twelve were covered by a mere five seconds in what was a thoroughly entertaining race.
Oriol Servia put the second PPI car in fifth position to end a great day for Cal Wells while Max Papis also moved through the field with style to claim sixth spot. Vasser faded to seventh at the end while De Ferran kept his Championship lead with a steady run to eighth on a day where both he and team-mate Helio Castroneves, who followed him home in ninth, complained of constant oversteer.
Title contenders Adrian Fernandez and Kenny Brack came home tenth and eleventh although with Andretti and Tracy both retiring and points leader De Ferran not scoring well, both are still very much in the title picture. The final point went to Christian Fittipaldi in the second Newman-Haas car, a machine far removed from Andretti's.
Kanaan eventually faded to 13th after his set-up went away from him while the lacklustre Alex Tagliani, Tarso Marques, Michel Jourdain Jr and Alex Barron completed the finishers.
The Fed-Ex Championship has a rare weekend off before heading to downtown Houston for a real 'Race around the houses.' Gil De Ferran still leads with three races remaining although his gap at the top is now a mere eight points from Roberto Moreno. Andretti, Tracy, Fernandez and Brack are all still up there too.