Juan Montoya steered the only CART team in the Indy 500 to victory
To: Sylvester Stallone
From: Inside Motor Sports
Read in Variety that you are developing a movie about open-wheel racing. Now, we're not saying you don't know what's what in Hollywood, but we seem to recall a certain film called Stop! Or My Mom Will Shoot. So allow us to offer a little advice: Your movie is going to need the requisite dashing, brash young driver who will be great if he can only harness his raw, natural ability. (See Days of Thunder and its $82.7 million domestic gross.) So read up on Juan Montoya, the defending CART champ who ran away with the Indianapolis 500 in his first try on Sunday.
Face it, the kid's straight out of central casting. He's handsome, young (24) and cheeky. He got his job in much the same way Willie Mays Hayes got his in Major League ($49.8 million U.S. gross): CART team owner Chip Ganassi was in Barcelona watching Alex Zanardi practice with his new Formula One team in September '98 when a dashing young Colombian tooling around the track in a test session caught his eye. Everyone knew Ganassi needed a driver to replace Zanardi, a two-time CART champ, so the owner had grown accustomed to having his backside kissed on a regular basis. "When you own a championship team, you've got these athletes falling all over you," says Ganassi. "Juan didn't give a damn who I was."
Now here's the great part, Sly. When our lead character goes into the most important race of his life and people are wondering if a guy who doesn't seem to know that cars have brake pedals can win the Big One, he pulls it off and it actually is believable. Montoya's performance on Sunday, on a tricky track at a distance he had never won at, was dominant. (The longest of his seven CART wins was 225 miles.) From the moment the green flag fell, Montoya raced as if his life depended on winning. Starting second, he caught pole sitter and IRL champion Greg Ray on Lap 27 and by Lap 50 had amassed a lead of at least 20 seconds on the third-place car. At 200 mph, that means Montoya led 31 of the other 32 cars by a mile.
The only thing missing was drama. With 21 laps to go Montoya blew by teammate Jimmy Vasser, who had taken the lead by skipping a chance to pit under caution, and won by a cozy 7.2 seconds over 1996 Indy 500 champion Buddy Lazier. All that came a day after Montoya and Vasser ran in the CART race in Nazareth, Pa., finishing fourth and seventh, respectively.
So come on, Sly. We just want to see this story done right. Oh, and we wouldn't mind an executive producer credit.
CART 1, URL 0
But Then, Who's Keeping Score?
The logo of their primary sponsor, Target department stores, wasn't the only bull's-eye on the backs of teammates Montoya and Vasser at Indy. When CART unveiled its 2000 schedule in December, the eye-grabber was the two-week opening around Memorial Day. The window presented CART teams with a chance to run at the Brickyard for the first time since 1996, when Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Tony George formed the IRL and essentially forced them into exile. However, Chip Ganassi's team, which happens to be CART's best, was the only one to take advantage of the opportunity.
The reason was that by the time the CART schedule was announced, most sponsors had already set their budgets for 2000, and the cost of sending two cars to Indy is usually between $2 million and $3 million. More important, CART engine makers (notably Ford) weren't eager to see drivers they support running races in cars with engines manufactured by GM (which specializes in making the normally aspirated engines mandated by the IRL). As a result, last year's Indy 500 champ and current CART rookie Kenny Brack watched the race on TV in Ohio instead of defending his title. However, Target and Budweiser didn't object to Ganassi fielding a team for the race and kicked in roughly $2 million to foot the bill.