By: Spencer Neff
October 23, 2018 | 8:37 AM
Welcome to our latest edition of IndyCar Flashback. This week, we take a look at the 1999 US 500 at Michigan International Speedway.
A race that is rarely short on excitement, this edition saw one competitor fall short of his first win. Meanwhile, another driver would claim his maiden victory, setting up a successful career.
Kanaan Edges Montoya as Papis Runs out of Fuel
The 1999 US 500 at Michigan International Speedway arrived with even more anticipation than usual.
One year earlier, the race set a record with 63 lead changes.
The Hanford Device (superspeedway rear wing) was once again in use. With its continued implementation, the drivers of the CART FedEx Championship Series were in for another action-packed race.
On the front row for the second straight year were Chip Ganassi Racing’s Jimmy Vasser and Patrick Racing driver Adrian Fernandez.
This year, Vasser took the pole.
The 1996 US 500 winner averaged a speed of 229.606 MPH to take the top starting spot.
Vasser would not hold the lead for long, however. After leading the first lap, his rookie teammate Juan Montoya gained the top spot and held serve for the following six laps.
Much of the early portion of the race was dominated by Montoya and Newman-Haas Racing’s Michael Andretti, the only two-time Michigan 500 winner (1987 and 89).
Montoya and Andretti swapped the lead 10 times while combining to lead 80 of the first 83 laps.
Other than an aborted start, the lone caution in the first half of the race was on Lap 61. Walker Racing’s Gil de Ferran crashed on the backstretch, slowing the field for 10 laps.
On Lap 84, Team Rahal’s Max Papis asserted himself as a contender for his first career win, leading 54 of the next 56 laps. The race’s frantic pace continued during that time, with only a P.J. Jones Lap 137 crash on the backstretch slowing things down.
Pit stops under the ensuing yellow flag helped earn Andretti the top spot once again. Five laps later, Papis returned to the lead.
On Lap 148, another frontrunner emerged from the pack. Team Green’s Dario Franchitti inherited the lead as he searched for his first win on an oval.
Franchitti, Andretti and Papis would take command of the final half of the race. The three drivers combined to lead 159 of the 166 laps from Lap 84 to Lap 249.
As the race wound down, Papis continued to dominate. Once the white flag fell, his lead had stretched to over three seconds. With his first win in sight, Papis slowed in Turns 3 and 4. The fuel tank in his Reynard-Ford XB had run dry.
Forsythe Racing’s Tony Kanaan, who led six laps while waiting until Lap 229 to make his final stop, stormed past. Montoya utilized a strong tow and nearly caught Kanaan, but would come up just .032 seconds short.
Kanaan, who lost radio communication with his team on Lap 10 and went a lap down with a rear wicker issue, earned his first win in his 31st start after starting 11th. The Forsythe Racing driver became the sixth racer since 1981 to earn his first IndyCar win at the Michigan 500.
Montoya extended his championship lead over Franchitti to 13 points as Franchitti finished fifth.
Tracy rounded out the podium, with Michael Andretti finishing fourth.
Despite falling short of his first win, Papis finished sixth. The race featured less than half as many lead changes (29) as the previous year.
The average speed of 186.097 MPH would be the third-fastest 500-mile open-wheel race in the track’s history.
Another wild 500-miler at Michigan set the stage for a dramatic end to the season. Beyond 1999, the race began to build the careers of its top finishers. Take a read on how it all played out afterward.
Following his 11th-place points finish, Kanaan joined Mo Nunn Racing for the 2000 season. After making his debut at the 2002 Indianapolis 500, Kanaan switched to the Indy Racing League when he joined Andretti Green in 2003.
Over the next eight years, he would win 13 races and the 2004 Championship. In 2013, he scored a popular win at the Indianapolis 500 with KV Racing. His last win came in a 500-mile race at Auto Club Speedway in 2014.
Papis finished fifth in the 1999 standings with two runner-up finishes to close out the year. He started 2000 by winning his first race at Homestead and won twice more by the end of 2001.
2001 would be Papis’ last full-time season in open-wheel racing. Over the next few years, Papis competed part-time before moving to NASCAR. Papis is currently an IndyCar Race Steward.
With Kanaan’s win and Greg Moore’s season-opening victory at Homestead, Forsythe had won multiple races for the third straight year.
1999 would have a tragic ending, as Moore was fatally injured in a crash at California Speedway in the season finale. In 2001, the team found its way back to the winner’s circle, as Patrick Carpentier earned his first win in the final Michigan 500.
When Carpentier was joined by Paul Tracy in 2003, the team experienced a renaissance of sorts.
Over the next five seasons, the team won 19 races (Carpentier won four more from 2002 to 2004) and the 2003 championship with Tracy.
Header Image by Peter Burke/Speedsport Magazine