The 1999 Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach marked the arrival – officially – of then-Target Chip Ganassi Racing driver Juan Pablo Montoya to North American racing.
Yes, the Williams test driver/F3000 champion had impressed in his first two starts in Homestead and Motegi, but it was at Long Beach where he really shone through.
In 1999, the Long Beach race was the 25th anniversary of the event, and ran on a one-off course design. An interim design for 1999 featured the introduction of the new aquarium section, where cars turned left off Shoreline Dr. for the first time as opposed to right. Through the section, they’d then rejoin at the old Turn 3 before moving up onto the back straight. The track was revised to its current configuration a year later.
Montoya started fifth but quickly moved up to second, hounding a then first-time pole sitter, Tony Kanaan, in the No. 44 McDonald’s Championship Racing Reynard-Honda. You’ll see that brief bit of action below.
Kanaan ultimately crashed out of the race, which left Montoya to dominate the remainder of the race. With clean pit stops and hitting his marks every time, Montoya held off Dario Franchitti and Bryan Herta to take his first victory in North America.
Interestingly, Franchitti and Herta had finished second and third the year previous to Montoya’s predecessor at CGR, Alex Zanardi.
Fifteen years later, Montoya is back but now driving for Team Penske, while Kanaan, perhaps fittingly, is in the No. 10 Target car. Montoya’s 2014 teammate Helio Castroneves was also in the 1999 race, but struggled to a 19th place finish driving for Hogan Racing in a Lola-Mercedes.
Other notes from those in the 1999 field ahead of this year’s race: Franchitti’s now in an advisory role at Ganassi, Herta, Michael Andretti, Jimmy Vasser own teams (as does Bobby Rahal, who fielded Herta and Max Papis that year), Christian Fittipaldi and Scott Pruett will race Daytona Prototypes in the supporting TUDOR United SportsCar Championship series, Robby Gordon’s SPEED Energy Stadium SUPER Trucks join the docket on Sunday, and last but certainly not least, “the Thrill from West Hill,” Paul Tracy, joins NBCSN’s broadcast team for the first Verizon IndyCar Series race of the year on the network.