Juan Montoya beat Michael Andretti to the line by four hundredths of a second in another classic race at the two mile Michigan Superspeedway.

If one race in the Fed-Ex Championship Series can guarantee a grandstand finish, it is Michigan. From Scott Pruett's emotional first win in 1995 through to Tony Kanaan's last gasp triumph last year, CART's premier 500 mile race in the absence of the Indy 500 has always delivered a fantastic showcase for US oval racing. Sunday's Michigan 500 Presented by Toyota was a fine example.

Paul Tracy's record breaking pole position lap time was about as useful as an ash-tray on a motorbike when the green flag dropped for the first time under a bright blue Michigan sky. Swamped from either side, the Canadian found himself back in sixth place by the end of lap one as the field started how they meant to go on by dicing side by side all the way around the opening two miles.

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The man who anticipated the green flag best was Gil De Ferran in the leading Team Penske entry who darted down to the inside from fifth on the grid. Tracy and fellow front row man Michael Andretti found themselves engulfed from both sides as De Ferran, Juan Montoya and Christian Fittipaldi all swept past into the first corner.

By the end of the opening lap De Ferran had been demoted to third behind Montoya and Andretti who proceeded to wow the sun baked crowd with a wheel to wheel scrap that lasted for a full 15 laps. Andretti would take the lead on the back straight only for Montoya to sneak through on the run to the line. Although the lead changed more than a dozen times, Andretti didn't officially lead a lap until lap 13, by which time the lead pair had been joined by Kenny Brack, Fittipaldi, De Ferran and a most impressive Helio Castroneves.

Castroneves, who had started 13th after an engine failure spoilt his qualifying run, quickly moved up on the leaders and swept past to take the lead around the outside of the second turn.

Soon after Castroneves took the lead, the front runners started encountering traffic and the top five cars began to break away from the closely following pack.

Once his battle with Montoya had been interrupted, Andretti quickly dropped behind the lead group and let his Newman-Haas team-mate Fittipaldi take up the challenge at the front. Castroneves somehow managed to sustain his lead but was put under intense pressure from Montoya, Brack, Fittipaldi and the ever impressive Cristiano Da Matta. A little way behind the leading quintet Max Papis was sustaining the form which took him to within yards of victory here last year and was heading the second bunch which included Andretti, De Ferran, Patrick Carpentier, Adrian Fernandez, Mauricio Gugelmin and Jimmy Vasser. Paul Tracy and Dario Franchitti had dropped to 14th and 16th respectively by lap 30 but were still on the same lap as the leader which was more than could be said of the man at the top of the points table Roberto Moreno.

Battling with a car which was unnervingly loose, Moreno spent the first 20 laps dicing in the lower reaches of the top 20 with Mark Blundell, Memo Gidley and Tarso Marques. His Team Patrick Reynard-Ford was not handling well in traffic and Roberto soon lost touch with the lead group and fell a lap behind the leader on the 27th tour.

The first round of pit-stops began on lap 33 when Castroneves and Montoya both made their way onto pit-road. Brack inherited the lead as one by one the leaders made their stops. One of the last to stop was Fernandez who did his usual excellent job of conserving fuel while others used theirs.

On lap 39 the Mexican made his way down pit road where his crew turned him round in smart fashion. Coming out of the pits, Adrian was careful not to exceed the imposed limit although in his rush to get back up to speed he buried his foot on the throttle as soon as he was passed the exit and the cold tyres pitched him into an embarrassing spin. The nose of the Reynard made light contact with the inside wall and Adrian was left stranded in the middle of the pitlane.

There had already been drama a lap earlier when Vasser and Moreno nearly made contact as the American tried to pull into his pit stall. The lollipop man for Moreno must have missed Vasser's Target sponsored Lola as it rumbled down pit-road and he let Moreno out just as Vasser was turning in. The American slammed on the brakes as Moreno sped across his bows but could not get into his pit-stall. His crew frantically waved him out and he duly completed his stop without any hassle a lap later. The delay had put the 1996 US 500 winner a lap down and had dropped him out of the points.

The caution flag was brought out while Fernandez was bump started, the Mexican losing two laps before be able to continue in his now rather stubby looking car.

Brack's ability to make his fuel last longer than anyone else had paid off for when the field came across the line to resume the race on lap 46 it was the Swedish CART rookie who led the pack. Almost immediately another titanic battle for the lead ensued involving Brack, Montoya, Andretti, Fittipaldi and Castroneves with all five drivers taking turns in the lead during the first ten laps of green flag action. Their constant squabbling and side by side racing allowed Da Matta and Papis to close in and by lap 60 the top seven cars were running nose to tail.

The remaining eight cars on the lead lap all followed in close order several seconds behind the ever changing lead battle. Vasser headed those one lap back in 16th place with Fernandez a further lap in arrears in 20th. However the Mexican had now been well and truly fired up by his pit-lane incident and was lapping on the same pace as the leaders.

Lap 62 saw the first retirement of the day as Tony Kanaan pulled into the pits and had his engine cover removed. The Brazilian had been tagging on to the tail of the leading group during the first stint and had enjoyed a great tussle with Gugelmin for the honour of the best placed Mercedes powered runner in just his first race back from injury. Sadly there was to be no repeat of his 1999 success and after several stops the Mo Nunn driver called it a day.

By lap 70 Andretti had fought his way into the lead once again, the American remaining at the front of the pack as the second round of pit-stops approached. When Andretti pitted on lap 79 he lost valuable seconds as his crew tried to activate his air-jacks.

By the time all the leaders had pitted it was Papis who found himself in-front, his Rahal crew pulling out all the stops to get their man out ahead of the rest. However any hope Max may have had of drawing out a clear lead over his pursuers was short lived when the caution flag was waved on lap 83 to clear debris form the circuit.

After five slow laps the action resumed on lap 88 with Papis leading Castroneves, Brack, Fittipaldi, Montoya and Da Matta. Andretti suffered an inexplicable loss of power as he crossed the line and fell back to 16th place, the last car on the lead lap. On the move in a different direction was Fernandez who had completed a scintillating stop which, coupled with some exceptional laps either side of his stop, had elevated him back onto the lead lap.

On lap 92 Brack made a daring pass on both Papis and Castroneves to take the lead around the outside of turn three, a move replicated a lap later by Castroneves. Fittipaldi joined the fun but as he and Brack battled for second on lap 98 the pair made light contact as they came onto the backstretch. Brack was pinned between the Newman-Haas machine and the wall where his Reynard shattered on impact. Shards of carbon fibre scattered amongst the following pack, several of whom were forced onto the grass at the bottom of the track. Thankfully no-one else made contact and Brack was able to extract himself from the wreckage of his car. Fittipaldi toured round to the pits to get his punctured right rear replaced. The team quickly checked his car over and on finding nothing wrong other than some tyre marks along the bodywork, sent him on his way.

The pace car circulated for seven laps while the debris was cleared from the track allowing most of the leaders to make their third stops. Montoya, who had been directly behind Brack when he hit the wall, was first out of the pits and he led the field round to take the re-start on lap 106.

However after an even better stop from the Team Green outfit, it was Paul Tracy who got the jump on Montoya and the pole position holder led the field onto the back straight where Castroneves, who had followed the Canadian passed Montoya, drafted through to take the lead as Tracy obediently obeyed his team's instructions and held back to conserve fuel.

For the next 30 laps, all 16 cars on the lead lap (Blundell had also gained his lap back) remained in close order, the lead alternating between Castroneves and Andretti while the following bunch diced amongst themselves. The crowd, which was well up on the previous year were kept on their toes as cars ran side by side all the way down the order.

The next round of pit-stops went by smoothly although De Ferran joined the growing list of retirements when his suspension developed a problem and he was forced to park. Also out by this point were Moreno, Vasser and Blundell while Da Matta soon joined them after running into a crewman, knocking the man down but without injury. As Tracy found out in Detroit, hitting a crewman in CART warrants a black flag and so the PPI driver's impressive run was over.

The man on the move during the middle of the race was Alex Tagliani in the Player's Forsythe entry. The Canadian rookie had played himself in gently at the start of the race and had stayed on the tail of the lead lap for much of the opening 100 miles. However after his fourth stop, Tagliani was soon on the move, passing four cars on one lap as he moved into the top three. On lap 155 he moved passed Andretti to take the lead and proceeded to run wheel to wheel with the most experienced man on the CART circuit.

Sadly it wasn't to last for the young driver who lost the rear of his car as he rounded turn four. Andretti was already clear when the blue machine snapped towards the outside of the track. Third placed Castroneves JUST squeezed through on the outside before Tagliani made contact with the concrete. Once again the following group were sent scattering every which way but loose in an attempt to avoid Tagliani as he slewed across the track. Luckily further contact was avoided but Tagliani's race was over.

As the pace car circulated, the leaders once again stopped for fuel with Castroneves leading the train onto pit-road. Yet again though the Ganassi crew were able to service Montoya quicker than anyone else and the Colombian was ahead as the leaders filed back out onto the race track.

On lap 170, with 80 to go, Montoya led from Castroneves, Andretti, Tracy and Franchitti who had bided his time during the first two-thirds of the race. Normal service was soon to resume with Castroneves, Montoya and Tracy hotly disputing the lead to the delight of the fans.

As the race moved into its most critical phase, many of the drivers tried to save their fuel which would hopefully let them run the rest of the race with only one more stop. For Castroneves though, there was no such concern and after finally seeing off the threat of Tracy on lap 182 the Brazilian began to extend his advantage.

After such a close race up to this point, it was a strange sight seeing Castroneves simply walk away from the field. By lap 190 his lead had grown to six seconds and with 50 laps remaining, the gap was out to a staggering ten seconds.

Behind the fleeing Brazilian, all the remaining cars on the lead lap formed a single file queue and tried to work together in an effort to catch Castroneves. Leading the line was Oriol Servia who was another driver not being told to worry about his fuel. The PPI driver headed Tracy, Carpentier, Montoya, Fittipaldi, the amazing Fernandez, Gugelmin, Papis, Andretti and Franchitti, all of whom were in with an equal chance of taking victory.

Unsurprisingly Castroneves was the first man to pit for what many hoped would be their final stops. Helio came in on lap 205 leaving the Brazilian 45 laps on a single tank of fuel. Servia took the lead for the first time until he stopped two laps later where his day turned into a nightmare, the Spaniard incurring a drive through penalty for pulling back onto the track too soon after leaving the pitlane. However his ordeal was not over for he broke pit-lane regulations again as he took his penalty.

Once again it was Fernandez who was able to stretch his fuel the furthest, the Mexican taking the mantle of being the biggest fuel saver in the absence of team-mate Moreno. The Patrick crew did a fantastic job and Fernandez was second when he emerged from the pits, still a considerable distance behind Castroneves but ahead of the scrap for third.

Andretti, Fittipaldi, Carpentier, Montoya, Papis, Tracy, Franchitti and Gugelmin all remained side by side as they attempted to chase the leaders down but their job was made easier on lap 222 when Fittipaldi was pitched into a terrifying spin as he backed off to avoid running into his team-mate as the pack charged down the back straight. Papis missed the rotating machine by inches as the black Lola spun along the grass on the inside. To many, the accident bore a frightening resemblance to Greg Moore's fatal smash at Fontana last year but where as Moore flipped several times, Fittipaldi was able to keep his car on all four wheels, the Brazilian emerging shaken but largely unscathed.

The final caution of the day allowed Castroneves to make his final stop without losing a lap although he was relegated to the tail of the lead lap. Fernandez moved into the lead and looked set to challenge for a most unlikely victory in view of his earlier mishap.

However on the re-start Andretti got the drop and swept passed the Mexican with Carpentier, Franchitti and Papis in tow. Montoya had chosen to pit for new tyres under the last caution and was running seventh with 20 laps to go although the Colombian was soon on the move passing Castroneves, Fernandez, Papis and Carpentier in one fell swoop. On lap 234 the Colombian powered passed Franchitti and by the end of the lap he was challenging Andretti for the lead.

The final 15 laps of the race were a mirror image of the opening 15 with Montoya and Andretti fighting tooth and nail, at times little more than centimetres apart. The lead swayed back and forth between the two, neither able to bet more than a car length ahead of the other. The crowd were on their feet as the two crossed the line side by side to begin their final lap Andretti diving to the inside with the hope of squeezing Montoya off line on the high-side. The cars were level as they entered the final turn, both encroaching upon the Swift of Marques who was trying desperately to stay out of the way. Twice the leaders touched on the run to the flag where Montoya's position on the high-side won him the race. Marques was far enough ahead to stay out of the way but close enough to create a draft, pulling Montoya over the line for a breathtaking win.

The only consolation for Andretti was that he moved 14 points clear of Moreno in the title race and is now favourite for the Fed-Ex crown. Montoya was thrilled with his win and has also moved into contention for the title, the Colombian looking for a second title before leaving for Formula One as he is widely expected to do at the end of the year.

Franchitti fended off the challenge of Carpentier and Papis for third place, the Scotsman gratefully taking the points which keeps his title hopes alive while the Canadian continued his excellent run which has moved him into the top ten in the points standings, despite missing three races earlier in the year. Papis meanwhile was destined for third until he coasted to a halt with just three laps remaining.

Castroneves could recover no higher than fifth by the end of the race while Fernandez had to back off towards the end just to ensure that he had enough fuel to finish the race. Tracy came home in seventh as the last car on the lead lap after Gugelmin was another late casualty, retiring with nine laps to go.

Servia was a disgruntled eighth after his pit-lane incident while Papis was classified ninth. Gidley finished a strong tenth in his one-off appearance in the Della Penna Reynard while Luiz Garcia and Marques were the only others left running at the end.

Michigan once more produced what could well be the race of the year, no mean feat when you consider the excellent standard of racing seen so far this year. Chicago in a weeks time has a lot to live up to.