Montoya Takes Target GP Pole

Sunday, July 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

CICERO, Ill. (AP) — Juan Montoya is pumped up, and that's bad news for the rest of the CART drivers.

The 24-year-old Colombian driver, who struggled with bad luck and mechanical failures through most of the first half of the season, is suddenly the hottest driver on the Champ car circuit again.

Coming off an exhilarating victory last Sunday in the Michigan 500 — a race in which he and series points leader Michael Andretti dueled to the end at speeds up to 225 mph — Montoya led another speed assault Saturday at Chicago Motor Speedway.

The defending series champion, whose victory last year in the inaugural Target Grand Prix was among seven wins in 1999, was the fastest of 17 drivers who surpassed the track qualifying record of 162.559 mph, set by Max Papis last August.

Montoya, who was fastest in practice, was last in the qualifying line on the 1.029-mile oval and did not disappoint, driving his Toyota-powered Lola to a lap of 167.567 and earning his series-leading fifth pole of the season.

``The year has been pretty up and down,'' said Montoya, who also won a CART event on the one-mile oval in Milwaukee the week after taking the rival Indy Racing League's Indianapolis 500 on May 28. ``Being on the pole here really pumps us up.''

Montoya is not among those who have complained about CART's new aerodynamic rear wing making the cars hard to balance and causing considerable turbulence when driven near other cars.

``I like the wing,'' he said. ``It they could make them more efficient so you could drive behind other cars, it would be great.''

Helio Castroneves took the other front-row position with a lap of 167.370 and explained the jump in speeds by saying, ``We're getting more downforce from the new wing, and we've been faster on every other track.''

The wing configuration, combined with the fact that the track is what the drivers call a one-groove oval, is expected to put a premium on passing on Sunday, but Montoya said it can be done.

``Last year in practice, there was little passing,'' he said. ``But, in the race, people passed when they had to. I think it will be the same this time. There's more grip this year, so maybe tomorrow, while the race is on, the racing groove will get a little wider.''

Tony Kanaan, still hampered by a cast on the left forearm he broke in crash last month in Detroit, was fast enough to take the third spot in the 24-car field at 167.340, followed by Kenny Brack at 166.602, Cristiano da Matta at 166.266, Papis at 165.541 and Paul Tracy at 165.419.

Andretti, who leads Roberto Moreno in the standings by 14 points, has had a disappointing weekend so far, running much slower than expected in Friday's practice and qualifying 15th on Saturday at 163.477.

``The only good news is that's the fastest I've gone around this place,'' said the 1991 series champ. ``I don't know what the problem was, but hopefully we can get it good in the race.''

Moreno, who has dropped out of the series lead by failing to score points in the last two races, wound up 13th at 164.100.

The irrepressible Moreno, the oldest driver in the open-wheel series at 41, said, ``The Patrick Racing crew has worked very hard on the gearbox and I think we have the solution to prevent the problems we have experienced in the last two races. I think we should be competitive tomorrow.''

Montoya started 10th last year, but was able to work his way to the front by the 64th of 225 laps. He wound up dominating the race, leading 132 laps.

Asked to assess how starting up front will affect his race this year, Montoya grinned and said, ``This just means my car was better on Saturday than it was last year.''

But the pole was worth one point and starting up front could easily translate into another victory and 20 more points for Montoya, who moved into a tie for fourth with Gil de Ferran and trails Andretti by 29.

``We've been lucky to stay this close with everything that's happened,'' Montoya said. ``We just need some consistency and to get some serious points.''