By: Spencer Neff
October 23, 2019 | 10:32 AM
As we transition into the new decade, Open-Wheels would like to offer up the first IndyCar Flashback of the 2019-2020 offseason. This week, we review the 2000 Indianapolis 500.
With the Greatest Spectacle in Racing transitioning into the new millenium, new stars found their way into the record books.
Montoya scores dominant win in Ganassi’s return to Indianapolis
During the latter half of the 1990s, the landscape of open-wheel racing in America had taken a different feel.
Two years after its official founding by Indianapolis Motor Speedway President Tony George, the Indy Racing League began in 1996.
After a controversial “25/8” rule, CART (Championship Auto Racing Teams) staged their own 500-mile race at Michigan international Speedway. A year later, it was abandoned for a 300-mile event on the Saturday of that weekend to be held at the new Gateway International Raceway.
By 2000, the scheduling conflict had been eliminated (note: due to a delay, a race at Nazareth Speedway was run on May 27, 2000).
Following a four-year absence, Target Chip Ganassi Racing entered CART drivers Juan Pablo Montoya and Jimmy Vasser in the 84th Indianapolis 500. A year earlier, Montoya netted Ganassi its fourth straight CART title.
In addition to Ganassi, two-time winner Al Unser Jr. reunited with his Galles Racing team as they looked to repeat their 1992 triumph.
Early on, the IRL regulars would have the upper hand. In qualifying, 1999 Series Champion Greg Ray would start on pole as Team Menard earned its third pole in six races. Joining Ray on the front row would be Montoya and A.J. Foyt Racing’s Eliseo Salazar.
Following a rain delay that lasted nearly three hours, the race began. Early on, Ray looked to have the car to beat as his Dallara-Oldsmobile would lead the opening stint before encountering Lap 27.
Once Vasser and 1999 Rookie of the Year Robby McGeehee took their turn up front and pitted, Montoya returned to the lead and took command of the race.
After setting a record of 65 laps under green, the first caution of the day flew on Lap 66. In Turn 2, Ray tagged the wall. With major damage sustained to his right-front suspension, Ray’s chance at winning was doomed. In the aftermath, Unser Jr. also ran over some debris and damaged his oil tank.
Soon after the five-lap caution, the early carnage continued. After crashing in Turn 1, Lyn St. James collected rookie Sarah Fisher and the race ended for both drivers.
Unfortunately, the incident marred St. James’ return after two years away. With Fisher also competing, it marked the first time in race history multiple females participated in the race.
Following the 11-lap yellow flag period, the racing returned to a fast but yellow-free pace. Aside from two track condition-related yellows spanning eight laps, the ensuing 59 laps ran incident free.
By Lap 144, Ray made contact with the Turn 2 wall, effectively ending his day and making him the first pole sitter to finish last since Roberto Guerrero in 1992.
Seven laps after the Lap 151 restart, PDM Rookie Sam Hornish spun and grazed the south chute wall to bring out the sixth caution. Although Hornish Jr.’s incident only slowed the race for four laps, the seventh and final yellow flag flew just 12 laps later.
On Lap 174, oil was spotted on the track. A lap later, Montoya’s stretch of consecutive laps led concluded at 143 as Vasser took the lead. On Lap 178, the race restarted for the final time. On Lap 180, Montoya sped past his teammate and never looked back.
By the time the checkered flag flew on the 200-lap race, Montoya crossed the Yard of Bricks 7.184 seconds ahead of 1996 winner Buddy Lazier. For the first time since Graham Hill in 1966, a rookie won the race.
Following Lazier, Salazar and 1997 Rookie of the Year Jeff Ward earned Top Five finishes for Car Owner A.J. Foyt. In fifth would be 1998 winner Eddie Cheever Jr.
After winning the 1989 race with driver Emerson Fittipaldi as Patrick Racing’s co-owner, Ganassi earned another Indianapolis 500 victory and an additional seventh-place finish with Vasser.
Following their 2000 triumph together, Montoya and Ganassi began to take divergent paths. A year later, Montoya joined Williams Racing in Formula 1. By 2006, he returned to Ganassi and embarked on his NASCAR career.
After two wins in seven years together, Montoya stepped away and returned to IndyCar, this time with Roger Penske’s team. By 2015, the Bogota, Colombia- native earned his second Indianapolis 500 victory.
Within three years, the versatile Montoya joined the sports car ranks.
As for Ganassi, he would not return to victory at the Indianapolis 500 until 2008 with Scott Dixon. Within four years, Ganassi earned two more victories in the race with Dario Franchitti (2010 and 2012).
In 2001, Team Penske and Team Green joined Ganassi as CART teams started to return to IMS. Over the next few years, CART teams began to return to the “500” in earnest. By 2008, CART (now ChampCar) and the IRL had reunified.
After his 2000 return, Unser Jr. contested six of the next seven Indianapolis 500s before making his final run in 2007.
Note: Thank you as always to everyone who participated in our poll on Twitter to select this week’s IndyCar Flashback. Look for more IndyCar Flashbacks and Fan Votes throughout the offseason and in 2020.
Header Image By INDYCAR