It’s fitting on today, the 99th day before the running of the historic 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, to reflect on how the 99th running of the race played out.
It was a classic battle in the closing laps between two of the finest drivers in the sport – who happened to be teammates: Team Penske’s Will Power and Juan Pablo Montoya.
Power took the lead from Target Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon on Lap 188 – and that’s when the action went from exciting to thrilling.
Montoya went ahead for one lap (Lap 192). Power came back to lead the next four laps before Montoya came right back, took the lead for the final time and held on for the final four laps that led to his second Indianapolis 500 victory.
“The last 10 laps, I could see Dixon was struggling,” Power said recently. “He wasn't able to tow up, which was a good thing. He was holding everybody else off, which was a good thing. Then Juan just dropped and passed me on the straightaway.
“I thought I was in the best position coming into the last lap, I'm where I want to be. I think Juan did a very good job of taking the air away, creating some push in my car so I had to lift out of (Turn) 2. At that point I'm like, it's over. But then if I go through (Turn) 3 flat, I might have a shot over the (start-finish) line. … But once I lifted in 3, I’m done.
“It was a great battle. I mean, it was a good finish for Penske, 1-2. It was my best finish here. Would have loved to have won, but that's just experience for next time.”
Montoya admitted he almost didn’t have the opportunity to make the decisive pass of Power.
“I got a little too low,” he said. “We all struggle with understeer in traffic, find ways to get away from that, find some clear air. I just shot a little too low, clipped the grass. Scared the hell out of me. I was lucky enough to catch it.
“The car had plenty of speed. The Verizon car was good that day. Coming through the last lap, I saw Will. I'm going, ‘Oh, I might be in trouble.’ When I saw him really close going into (Turn) 2, I saw where he put the nose. That was good enough. When he pushed up, I looked at the gap, I said, ‘I'm going to get there.’”
It’s likely few in the grandstands of Indianapolis Motor Speedway would have picked Montoya to win after made contact on the first lap of the race, restarting 30th. But the Colombian driver would not be denied his second Indy 500 title.
“Five-hundred-mile races are very long races and you’ve got to be patient,” Montoya said. “You struggle to pass the guy in 31st place. You have understeer, the car feels terrible, it's going to be a long day.
“You just take your time. It's like (pass) one, then the other, then the other. When I realized I was running P8, I'm not too bad. But it's hard because each passing takes a long time, everybody fighting for the position so hard. Once you pass them, then you’ve got to go through the next guy, go through the same thing, go through the same thing. It's pretty tough.”
As for the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 this May, there’s already added incentive for Team Penske, which has won more Indy 500s than any team (16) and is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2016. Montoya is ready.
“Once you get in the car, you're more worried about doing something really stupid on the parade laps,” he said. “Personally, I am. That's the number one thing: just don't be the first idiot to crash.”