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Montoya Was Something To Watch At The Rolex

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 3 2013

Juan Pablo Montoya takes the checkered flag at the end of last weekend's Rolex 24. (Photo courtesy of the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series)

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Since forever, Juan Pablo Montoya has been an enigma wrapped in a smirk.

Absurdly talented, he is also seemingly bored to the point of being disinterested in whatever car or race or series in which he’s competing. His driving style can be as precise as a plasma cutter or as brutish as a mallet. As his competitors head post-race to their private jets, they tend to be either blistered by anger or inspired to awe.

In the Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series in recent years, it’s tended to be Bad Juan who has stirred the emotions of fans and peers. So publicly has the native Colombian used his Chip Ganassi Racing BMW Riley like a bulldozer, that his CGR teammates uneasily joke that they hope previously aggrieved drivers know exactly which stints Montoya will be in the car.

Earlier this year, when the Ganassi team announced its driver lineups for the 2013  24 at Daytona, the first thought was: Well that’s interesting.

Montoya had been put in the No. 01 car. The car that is shared season-round by Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. The car that won last year’s championship and is be going for a fifth straight championship this year. The car that, if victorious, would allow Pruett to tie Hurley Haywood for most victories at Daytona (five).

The pre-race thought was that putting all that on the line by putting Montoya in the car was kind of like sending it out with fuel leaking onto a hot exhaust header. It seemed that CGR was risking a lot by putting the series’ most

Juan Pablo Montoya responded to the moment at the 24. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Harold Hinson)

trouble-conductive lightening rod into the 01.

Turns out the move was brilliant. And a treat to watch.

Team general manager Tim Keene had said before the race that Montoya would respond to the situation: That Montoya knew what being in the No. 01 car meant in the 2013 Rolex 24 – and beyond. Keene said he was completely confident that it would be Good Juan who would team with Pruett, Rojas and IndyCar import Charlie Kimball in the 01.

Montoya was wonderful in his first stints in last weekend’s race. Then he got better.

With about two hours to go in the race, Pruett had to give up the driver’s seat. An old ankle injury was causing pain and during a pit stop, out he came and in went Montoya for the money stint.

Montoya went clinical. The former Formula 1 driver, who lists the iconic Grand Prix of Monaco among his victories, was nearly perfect. He overcame challenges from several the sport’s top teams and drivers, survived a couple of late restarts (which came after absurd full-course cautions) and drove away to the victory.

Without a doubt, Montoya was aided by being in the fastest car on the track. But his skill level was also tier 1.

“It was a lot of pressure,” Montoya said of his mind set during the race-securing stint. “I thought we have a decent lead, we’re just going to go out there and ride for two and a half hours or whatever is left, and then you realize there’s a caution and another caution and another caution, and with the way the rules are and the speed the car had, it’s like you didn’t want to get into a pissing contest with anybody.

“You had to be smart about when you passed them and everything, so I was always careful on the restarts, and I took my time to pass people. When they told me 9 was going to get a penalty, I rode behind for a couple laps, and as soon as he went in, I caught up the 10 car in a half a lap, and a lap later passed him and drove away. We were kind of concerned about the 6 car, what they were going to do with fuel because they told me they could make it until the end and that we were going to have to push, and we pushed like crazy and opened up a hell of a gap. It was fun.”

For all but the competition.

No, the Bad Juan was not to be found last weekend at Daytona. Only the Great Juan.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, February 3 2013
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