Reigning CART champion Juan Montoya withstood the challenge from the IRL's best talent to record a dominant victory at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on Sunday, taking the lead from Greg Ray on lap 26 and very rarely relinquishing it. Behind the Colombian, a number of drivers furiously scrapped for the remaining podium positions in what was an absorbing race from start to finish.
Rain, the chief enemy of all oval circuits, struck Indianapolis on Sunday and when the scheduled start time came around, the 2.5 mile Superspeedway was extremely damp meaning that no racing would be possible for some time. The circuit maintenance team were quickly in action once the rain had cleared and as the teams and drivers waited pensively in the pit-lane, a number of jet dryers were dispatched in order to get the track into a suitable condition.
Nobody wanted to take any risks with circuit water before such a major event and nearly three hours had passed before track officials gave the all clear.
In the garage area the tension had been escalating all morning, the delay was prolonging any nerves the 33 waiting drivers may have had. The drivers also knew that when they finally made it out onto the track, grip levels would be vastly different from those experienced in practice and qualifying. The combination of rain and jet drying would have removed most of the laid down rubber on the racing line leaving the circuit very 'green'.
All these uncertainties simply added to the tension and when Mari Hulman George, chairman of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Board, uttered the magic words, “Ladies and gentlemen, start your engines,” over a quarter of a million spectators burst into a deafening cheer, almost drowning the engines out.
The entire field circulated the track for several pace laps, ER star Anthony Edwards behind the wheel of the pace car, before pole sitter Greg Ray led the pack onto the starting straight to take the green flag. The race was away at the first time of asking and into turn one, fourth place starter Robby Gordon dived to the inside and tried to wrest the lead from his Menard team-mate. Contact was somehow avoided and Ray held the line, cutting across Gordon's bows to remain in the lead, costing Gordon some momentum. Capitalising on Gordon's misjudgement, Montoya swept by into second coming onto the back straight.
Behind the lead trio, everyone else had got away cleanly and were being led by Eliseo Salazar (3rd on the grid) from Scott Sharp, Jeff Ward, Jimmy Vasser and Eddie Cheever.
Once into the clean air, defending IRL champion Ray set about opening up a lead over his pursuers and over the next few laps he drew out a second advantage over Montoya who had a similar gap back to Gordon and Salazar. The field as a whole stayed remarkably close in the opening laps with everyone keeping on their toes as they acclimatised themselves to the track conditions.
It wasn't until lap 15 did the leaders encounter slower traffic and as Ray held back slightly, Montoya and Gordon closed in on the leader only to lose ground again as Ray began to use the slower cars to his advantage. As the traffic began to thicken, Gordon surprised Montoya and nipped by to take second only to be re-passed when he was held up behind Lyn St James. Salazar also moved ahead of Gordon to take third and by lap 20 was looking for a way past Montoya.