25 June 2000
Castroneves makes it seven from seven.
Montoya now resumed his perch at the head of the field but Castroneves was still within striking distance. Fittipaldi found a way past De Ferran to take third while Papis followed along closely. Moreno was now sixth while the Player's Forsythe crew had turned Tagliani round in record time and as a result the young Canadian had vaulted into seventh. Franchitti was next up ahead of Andretti but Tracy's afternoon had come to a sad end when he was black flagged for hitting one of his crewmen. After one stop/go penalty the championship leader was finally excluded when it was revealed that the crewman had injured his ankle. Thankfully the injury was not serious but Tracy's day was over.
On lap 60 the race was turned on it's head. Coming up to lap Blundell, De Ferran made a late effort to regain his third position. Despite Blundell's best efforts to get out of the way, De Ferran was boxed in and rammed the back of Fittpaldi's Newman-Haas machine. The impact sent all three cars off the prepared surface but whereas Blundell was able to keep his engine running and make his way back onto the track, De Ferran stalled and Fittipaldi suffered terminal damage to his Lola and was out.
Needless to say this brought about another pace-car period while De Ferran was pushed back into action and Fittpaldi's abandoned machine was hoisted away, the irate Brazilian sharing some choice words with his compatriot, in the process.
After just one lap behind the pace car, Montoya coasted into the pits with a feint trail of smoke emanating from the rear end, signalling his retirement from the race. The dejected Colombian stepped from his machine, knowing that the win could have easily been his.
When the race went green again on lap 66 the leaderboard looked distinctly strange. Castroneves was now leading from Papis, Moreno and Servia. Carpentier had risen to fifth ahead of Franchitti while Andretti, Tagliani, Vasser and Jourdain Jr rounded out the top ten.
Almost as soon as the racing had resumed, Moreno overcooked things as he tried to lap Kurosawa in Turn 4. The Patrick Reynard-Ford speared off the track and into the tyres causing another caution.
Two laps later and the green flag was waved again. Castroneves and Papis got the drop on new third placed man Servia, pulling away on the first green flag lap. Papis had a quick look into Turn 4 but thought against it although a second attempt later in the lap resulted in the Italian driver locking his tyres and running wide. Further down the order, Franchitti managed to fight his way past Carpentier for fourth place while Andretti was the next victim of the Kurosawa chicane when he found himself being chopped, allowing Tagliani to snatch sixth.
The situation up-front was tense with less than a second separating the top two. For lap after lap Castroneves and Papis circulated as one, the Penske driver not allowing his pursuer the chance to make a move. Servia was unable to stay on the same pace as the leaders but was clear of Franchitti who was spending much of his time simply trying to keep his car on the road.
As the race entered its closing stages, Castroneves upped the pace and finally broke Papis' challenge. Showing no nerves, the Penske driver recorded the fastest lap of the race, 1 minute 15.805 seconds, on lap 78 and eked out a three second advantage as the race wound down. Max clung on for all he was worth but eventually settled for a well deserved second place. Servia came home a delighted third ten seconds behind the winner while Franchitti was a gritty fourth, 13 seconds adrift.
For Helio, the slowing down lap was an occasion to savour. Almost standing on his seat, he punched the air and soaked up the crowds rapturous applause. Few recent winners have rivalled the utter joy that Castroneves displayed on his return to pit-lane. Unconcerned with TV interviews he sprinted across the start/finish straight to the grandstands where he celebrated with the fans.
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