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Pedley: Montoya To Be On Watch List At Rolex

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 28 2011

The BMW Riley prototypes of Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates hit the pits during last year's Rolex 24. They finished first and second. (Photos courtesy of the Rolex GRAND-AM Sports Car Racing Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

After climbing out of his BMW Riley for the final time at last year’s Rolex 24, Juan Pablo Montoya cut loose with jokes. Jokes about his aggressive driving style and on-track tactics. Jokes that produced more innovative curse words than laughs in the paddock at Daytona International Speedway.

Jokes whose punchlines, Montoya’s teammates at Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates hope, have been forgotten by those who shared the Daytona road course track with the Colombian car compactor in 2011 and will again just a few weeks from now.

During a recent teleconference, one of those teammates, Dario Franchitti, was asked about the 2012 Rolex 24.

The first words out of his mouth were, “Our biggest problem with the Rolex 24 is getting the other drivers to understand when Montoya is in the car, when we’re not in the car, we’re going to have a sign on the car when Montoya goes out, there will be a sign that says: Montoya is in the car, and it’s not us. Last year he would hit about everything out there. When we would go out, people would extract their revenge.”

Based on recent history, massive acts of revenge appear to be about the only things which will be able to keep Ganassi prototyples out of Victory Lane at the 50th edition of North America’s most prestigious sports car event.

Ganassi cars have won four of the last six Rolex 24s. They finished second in the other two of those six races.

The night time was the wrong time to be around Juan Pablo Montoya in last year's Rolex 24.

A year ago, the Ganassi Dinan-tuned BMW Riley driven by Scott Pruett, Memo Rojas, Graham Rahal and Joey Hand finished first. Finishing second was the second Ganassi car, which was driven by Scott Dixon, Franchitti, Jamie McMurray and, infamously, Montoya.

During last year’s race, Montoya struck at night, taking out several contending DP cars, including those of SunTrust Wayne Taylor Racing and GAINSCO Bob Stallings. The former Formula 1 driver and current Sprint Cup driver for Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing finished the race with his car wearing its third nose as the first two were destroyed in wrecks.

Montoya even had to be warned by his own team officials to go easy around the other Ganassi car as he insisted on putting risky moves on that other CGRFS entrant.

Team owner Wayne Taylor, whose son Ricky was driving the Dallar Chevrolet at the time of the Montoya shunt, issued the ultimate sport car epithet afterward; he called Montoya a stock car driver.

“It was probably a racing incident but maybe he thought he was in a NASCAR stock-car race or something,” Taylor said.

Montoya shrugged of all criticism after the race.

“Over the night you have to be aggressive,” Montoya, a past winner of the 24, said.

Juan Pablo Montoya will head back to the Rolex 24 next month. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Quite a change in attitude for Montoya, his team owner said.

“I remember Montoya’s first year showing up there,” Ganassi said. “That was the first race he drove for us when he came back from Formula 1. He actually ended up winning the race that year. I remember him saying, ‘Man, I don’t want to be the idiot to crash the car here. We’re doing so well, I just don’t want to crash’. Since then he’s probably hit everything except the guy selling hotdogs.”

The 2012 Rolex race is just over a month away. The annual practice for the race, the “Roar Before The 24” is just over a week away.

New cars and drivers will be on hand for the 50th Anniversary 24. Teams and drivers seem even more excited about getting to Daytona for the annual event which kicks off Speedweeks than in past years.

“Being the 50th anniversary, it’s a big one,” Franchitti said. “Everybody wants to go there and win the watch. It’s a great way to start the season.

“I look forward to working with Scott. But especially having Juan and Jamie in the car again, you know, we always have a good time doing that. But we’re pretty competitive about the whole thing, too. We’ll be giving it our best shot and see how we go.”

And see how the humor of the post-race jokes held up for the teams and drivers who were Montoya-ed last year.

Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates’ Daytona 24 highlights:

– CGRFS’ one-two finish in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona marked the first time a team had reached the four-win mark since Brumos Porsche (1973, 1975, 1978, 2009), and the quickest to do so in the race’s 50-year history.

2011 Daytona 24 winners Memo Rojas, Joey Hand, Graham Rahal and Scott Pruett.

– During the 2010 season, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams completed the first ever “Chip Slam” of motor racing by winning four major motorsports events in a 12-month period with victories in the 2010 Daytona 500, the 2010 Indianapolis 500, the 2010 Brickyard 400 and the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona.

– Pruett and Rojas once again had a stellar season in 2011, winning five of the 12 races and claiming their third GRAND-AM Team Championship in four years. In addition to wins, the team had 10 podium finishes giving them an average finishing position of 2.2.

– CGRFS has the greatest six-race stretch in Rolex 24 At Daytona history with four wins and two second-place finishes dating back to 2006. The team also has five championships (2004, 2006, 2008, 2010, 2011) and 37 race wins – all series records, to their credit since their introduction to the circuit in 2004.

– The 2012 CGRFS driver roster is an impressive group of international racing champions representing four Indianapolis 500 titles (Montoya-2000, Franchitti-2007, 2010 and Dixon-2008), seven Indy car championships (Montoya-1999, Dixon-2003, 2008 and Franchitti-2007, 2009, 2010, 2011), five Daytona Prototype championships (Pruett-2004, 2006 and Pruett/Rojas-2008, 2010, 2011) and seven former Rolex 24 At Daytona Winners.

– Pruett holds the all-time class victory mark at the Rolex 24 At Daytona with nine (1987, 1988, 1992, 1993, 1994, 2002, 2007, 2008, 2011). He has a record 36 overall GRAND-AM Rolex Series wins in addition to four overall wins at the Rolex 24 At Daytona (1994, 2007, 2008, 2011). Pruett, Pedro Rodriguez, Peter Gregg, Rolf Stommelen and Bob Wollek are the lone four-time Rolex 24 At Daytona Winners.

– Chip Ganassi and co-owner Felix Sabates are the only team owners in history to win three-straight Rolex 24 At Daytona events (2006, 2007, 2008).

– Pruett and Montoya’s back-to-back wins in 2007 and 2008 marked the first time drivers earned repeat victories in the race since 1986 and 1987 when Derek Bell, Al Unser, Jr. and Al Holbert accomplished the feat. Montoya became the first driver in Rolex 24 At Daytona history to win in each of his first two starts in the 24-hour race.

– Dario Franchitti is the only driver to ever capture the 12 Hours of Sebring, the Indianapolis 500, an open wheel title and the Rolex 24 At Daytona consecutively, accomplishing the feat in less than a year in 2009. Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are the only others to win the four titles, but neither did so in succession.

– Last year’s victory marked Graham Rahal’s first victory with team owner Chip Ganassi. Rahal’s victory also came 30 years after his father Bobby won the event in 1981.

– Joey Hand led the most laps in the 2011 Rolex 24 At Daytona, leading 116 of the No. 01 car’s race-leading 231 laps. Hand led the race six different times.

– Pruett became the first four-time GRAND-AM Rolex Series Driver Champion in 2011 and is the first American to score 10 major sports car championships – his closest competitor is the late Peter Gregg who has seven to his credit. Pruett’s previous titles include four Daytona Prototype Championships (2004, 2008, 2010, 2011), two IMSA GTO Titles (1986, 1988), one IMSA GT Endurance (1986) and three Trans-Am Championships (1987, 1994, 2003).

– Last year’s Rolex 24 At Daytona win gave BMW its second overall victory in the Rolex 24. The first came in 1976 with a BMW CSL driven by Peter Gregg, Brian Redman and John Fitzpatrick.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Wednesday, December 28 2011
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