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The Way It Is/ Montoya wins a first-rate Indy 500

by Gordon Kirby
For my race coverage of the Indy 500 please go to After a worrying week and a half of practice and qualifying to our great relief and pleasure the 99th running of America's greatest race turned out to be free of flying cars or fearful injuries. This year's 500 at the Speedway rebounded from a fitful start to develop quickly into an exciting, fiercely-fought battle between pre-race favorites Penske and Ganassi.

In the end, Juan-Pablo Montoya bounced back mightily from an early incident with Simona de Silvestro to score one of the most impressive victories in the race's long history as Penske's four-car team recorded a rare one-two and took home Roger's 16th victory in the big race.

After all the criticism IndyCar took in recent weeks, Montoya said Chevrolet and Honda have done an excellent job with their respective aero kits.

© Mike Levitt/LAT USA
"I think the aero kits have been a huge plus," Juan declared. "We were able to race hard together today and Chevy brought a really good motor. The motors were really, really good and our cars were fantastic. I think IndyCar is going in the right direction."

Penske added his observations:

"When you think about how we started the month and all the issues we had and the negative things that came out about the race cars," Penske remarked. "At the end, over the last fifteen laps, it could have been anybody's race. They raced clean and they passed. The package worked well.

"You never knew who was going to lead the next lap down the front straightaway or the back. I think the race was great for the fans and hopefully this race will correct some of the negative publicity we got earlier in the month. This kind of racing at 220+ mph for lap after lap shows how good these drivers and cars are. To me, the fan noise is what it's all about and it was great to see all the excitement from the fans at the finish."

A few days before the race I talked with Scott Dixon about this year's aero kit packages and the series of accidents we witnessed during practice.

"Everybody's talking about the accidents as if it's a new thing, but I don't think it's new," Scott said. "Obviously, we've been lucky in the past. We've seen cars crash and get airborne and break backs in the past and we saw James get injured seriously this month. It was fantastic news to learn that he's going to be okay because he's a good friend, someone I see on a daily basis at the gym.

"Again, we've seen the cars getting in the air in the past. Maybe we saw it a little more than normal this month. I guess the easy answer is that the concern is hoping that everyone is going to be safe. That's all you can think about. As a driver, you can't look into things too deeply. It is what it is right now and everybody's doing their best to eliminate the big accidents.

"I think we put on fantastic races and I think that's what special about IndyCar as well as the diversity of tracks we race on," Scott continued. "I think the biggest thing for us is the competitiveness between the two manufacturers. The DW12 was not too tunable but the tune-ability for the drivers with the new package is quite nice.

"Of course, the speeds were up. I think if we had seen qualifying in its full form we would have seen 232 mph laps. I think everyone needs to work over the next few years on what happens when the cars go backwards.

© Mike Levitt/LAT USA
"Safety is always evolving and after James' accident I'm sure they will look at the front wishbones. There are always things you can work on. I think an exciting part of having the manufacturers involved is they have the money and technology to work out the best ways to improve the cars and the technology."

Some drivers at the Speedway this year complained their cars were on a knife edge, operating within a very narrow window.

"A lot of depends on the car," Dixon observed. "I've had no problems with the car and I think we were trimming out as much, or more, than anybody else. Indy is about risk versus reward, especially when it comes to qualifying.

"The thing that people are forgetting is that all these teams and all these drivers have every option to put on more downforce and it's their option to take it off as well. Yes, you can maybe have fine increments and make the car slightly harder to drive but in reality I think it's a whole lot different. I think some cars are feeling it more whether that's from their mechanical setups or something else."

Dixon also discussed the wisdom of going to an equation featuring less downforce and more power.

"I think it's something that has to happen over time," Scott said. "But it's not something that you can rush into. It's a hard one because we've been through the days of the Handford devices and trying low downforce speedway wings at one-mile tracks.

"The thing is, I don't know why people moan or talk about it because our racing is the best racing in the world. If you look back into the sixties, seventies and eighties, you had cars winning by a lap or more. So I don't understand what the conversation really is about.

"We've seen Firestone's capabilities, especially on the road courses. If you look at Barber the tires degraded, but as they did it became a phenomenal race. So the racing is not the issue.

"Drivers always want more power but I'm not sure that less downforce really works. It's harder to get closer to cars and that creates other issues. I don't have the answer for it. But again, I don't think the racing is bad. I think it's the best in the world. I don't think that's the problem."

Justin Wilson offered a different perspective from a Honda-powered and aero-kitted driver who raced Indy cars only at Indianapolis this year.

© Mike Levitt/LAT USA
"It's a very narrow band for the setup," Justin said. "The smallest thing seems to tip it one way or the other. So it's very hard to get it just right. It seems very disturbed by turbulent air. One car is okay, but when you get two cars in front of you it gets very turbulent and difficult to pass. Because we don't have as much downforce from the floor, it's a bit more of a handful.

"We've got so little aero it's all mechanical. We're searching for every bit of mechanical grip we can get. The actual downforce number hasn't changed that much over the last couple of years. This year we're trimming it out and we could have trimmed it more, but the car needs a certain amount of downforce to go 'round the corner. So you can take more downforce off, but you're not going to go faster."

In closing, I also enjoyed a short chat last weekend with Ilmor co-founder Mario Illien whose company builds Chevrolet's IndyCar engines.

"I think the formula as we have it right now gives us competitive races," Illien observed. "It could do with another engine manufacturer or two to make it more competitive, but I think the competition among manufacturers is a good thing and the competition on the track is very good.

"IndyCar puts on a good show but the problem is the coverage is bad on television and in the newspapers. The coverage has been bad for many years and I haven't seen any improvement. They may make incremental improvements but you don't see any signs of a breakthrough.

"I think from this point of view the aero kits have been a failure. I don't see any evidence of an increase in interest from the media and from what I've seen in the past I don't think we'll see any improvements as we go forward.

"I think if they had taken the money they've spent on the aero kits and used that to promote the series and try to attract more media coverage in the United States and around the world it would have been a much better way to spend that money. But that's only my opinion."

*And a few words of thanks from Joe Freeman and I to all of you who joined us at the IMS Museum last Friday evening for the launch of 'Second to One: All But For Indy' and to those of you we had the pleasure to meet at the Speedway's Memorabilia Show on Saturday.

Joe and I were delighted with the positive responses we heard from many of you about not only 'Second to One' but also Racemaker Press's wide range of books covering the great history of American automobile racing and the American automobile. Our thanks to all of you for your enthusiastic support and interest in our work.

Auto Racing ~ Gordon Kirby
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