On July 6, 13 years, 9 months and 20 days after his last Indy car victory on Sept. 17, 2000, at Gateway International Raceway — the 38-year-old CART champion and Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya celebrated in Victory Circle again to hundreds of Colombian fans waving the flag and cheering him on after prevailing in the fast and furious 200 laps on the 2.5-mile tri-oval. Montoya, the eighth different driver this season to claim the Verizon P1 Award, is the eighth different race winner through 11 rounds of the Verizon IndyCar Series season. However Montoya is the first to win from the pole this season.
Montoya, driving the No. 2 PPG Team Penske car, led teammate Helio Castroneves across the finish line by 2.3403 seconds. Rookie Carlos Munoz finished third for the third time this season and Ryan Briscoe finished a season-high fourth. Scott Dixon, the winner last year at Pocono Raceway, placed fifth.
“I want to thank Roger for believing in me after so many years out of an Indy car,” said Montoya, who claimed his third Indy car 500-mile race victory. “This is fantastic. Things were going good, but you never know when you’re going to get a win. We did the right things and got the win, and we’re at a good place at this point of the season.”
Montoya’s steady approach Sunday was in contrast to others. Tony Kanaan’s team first tried to win on speed, then on fuel strategy. Montoya, inherited the lead for good on Lap 197 when Tony Kanaan, who led a field-high 78 laps, also had to pit for fuel. Will Power dominated the race early, and then was awarded a blocking penalty on Helio Castroneves. Power’s fifth in eight races.
The 200-lap race was caution-free for the first 158 laps until Graham Rahal spun to bring out the yellow. The 158 consecutive laps of green flag racing to open a race was the longest stretch for a 500-mile race in IndyCar history. With the one caution flag, the race was the third-fastest in Indy car history (202.402 mph) and the first 500-mile race with an average speed above 200 mph.
“Congrats to Montoya. Are you kidding me? This guy is unbelievable,” said Castroneves, who like Power is seeking his maiden series title. “Coming back after all those years and winning a race? As soon as they signed him I knew he would be an asset, and a headache, for us. It’s good (to have a) 1-2 finish – and we’re tied in the championship. It’s unbelievable.”
It was the 12th Indy car victory for Montoya, who gained one position to fourth in the championship. He’s 55 points behind his teammates. Simon Pagenaud, who finished sixth, replaced Indianapolis 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay in third place in the standings. Hunter-Reay, whose No. 28 DHL car for Andretti Autosport developed a front suspension issue early in the race, finished 18th after repairs.
Power later acknowledged that Castroneves also drives for Team Penske, and teammates need to work together. But the bigger issue — the big picture as Montoya calls it — is that the penalty knocked Power back to 10th place and dropped him into a tie with Castroneves for the points lead as both seek their first IndyCar championship.
Like Montoya, Simon Pagenaud didn’t miss an opportunity. His sixth-place finish allowed him to draw within 44 points of the lead in a race where double points were awarded. Montoya is fourth, 55 points behind, with seven races left.
At this point, anything seems possible for Montoya.
High Revs Photography covered Juan Pablo’s first win back in an IndyCar.