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Montoya to switch to NASCAR 10 Jul 2006

Juan Pablo Montoya (COL) McLaren in the FIA Press Conference.
Formula One World Championship, Rd 10, United States Grand Prix, Preparations, Indianapolis, USA, 29 June 2006

With the news that Juan Pablo Montoya will quit Formula One racing for NASCAR in 2007, speculation is rife that his departure may leave the way clear for McLaren to sign Lewis Hamilton as Fernando Alonso’s partner next year. The immediate future of the GP2 sensation would appear to be linked with Kimi Raikkonen's decision as to his future seat in Formula One racing.

Announcing his new plans at the weekend to drive Chip Ganassi’s No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge Charger, Montoya said: “When people think of moving from Formula One to NASCAR, some people think I’m crazy, but I think it’s exciting. I think it’s a great challenge for my career. Coming here is probably going to be my toughest challenge ever. I think when you go watch the races and follow it you know one weekend you can be up front and the next weekend you can be terrible. You have 36 races and race against really great guys, and I think sometimes people don’t know how tough it is out here and how many great drivers are out here. To come here and be part of it and learn is going to be exciting. I think a lot of people are going to build this up and say I’m going to come here and win and do great things. Of course, I want to do that. I think it’s going to be a lot tougher than people think. I think the challenge to drive a Cup car is going to be tough. When the offer came and I saw the racing you guys do here, I was really ecstatic about it. I’m glad to be here. I think Chip has great guys around the team and to join them - they’ve already told me 'whatever you need' - and I’m excited about that. To learn and deal with myself more as a driver, I think it’s just great.”

Montoya's first seat in Formula One racing was with BMW Williams in 2001, hot from championship success in ChampCars with Ganassi. Since then the Colombian has won seven Grands Prix races, but ultimately never realised his full potential. Speaking at the weekend, Montoya revealed that he had considered a couple of options to stay in Formula One racing: “and they were completely open for me to sign - but that the lure of NASCAR was greater. I think coming here and starting as a rookie again, it’s going to be a brand new experience. I’m working with Chip again, and we’ve had a lot of success together before. Being here in America is exciting. I couldn’t turn it down. A couple of years down the road maybe this option wasn’t going to be available, and I didn’t want to throw it away.”

The Ganassi team plans to run him this year to get him up to speed and to qualify as a driver for the Daytona 500 next season. “First of all I’ve got to finish the Formula One season,” Montoya said. “One of the reasons I wanted to talk to Chip about coming here, I know it was a road course when I drove Jeff’s car and it was a lot of fun. You could push the car. You could slide the car, and it was really friendly to me on the road course. That was really exciting to me. I think I’m going to have a very busy winter. I’m going to finish the Formula One season this year, and from there we’ll just take it, do as much testing as we can.”

Montoya’s reference to ‘Jeff’s car’ harked back to his first drive in a NASCAR. During the 2003 season, Montoya swapped cars with NASCAR hero Jeff Gordon as each sampled something new at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Montoya drove Gordon’s NASCAR whilst the American jumped into the cockpit of the Colombian’s BMW Williams.