In an unprecedented move, Juan Pablo Montoya is leaving Formula One for NASCAR in 2007. In a press conference this morning, Montoya announced he would be rejoining his former team owner, Chip Ganassi, behind the wheel of the Havoline Dodge for next season. Montoya won a CART championship and Indianapolis 500 in successive years (1999 and 2000) before heading to Formula One in 2001.
In his career, Montoya has won seven Formula One races but found his seat in the sport in jeopardy for next season. McLaren, his current team, has already signed defending World Champion Fernando Alonso for next season and could run GP2 standout Lewis Hamilton or retain Kimi Raikkonen in the second car. Montoya fell out of favor with management, his tenacious and fiery style completely contrasting Raikkonen's calm demeanor behind the wheel and his "Ice Man" nickname.
This season McLaren has been the third-best team in F1, behind Renault and Ferrari. Montoya has scored two podiums while Raikkonen has racked up four. Montoya reportedly turned down an offer to return to Williams, the team where he made his debut and ran his first four years in the sport. The only other option was Red Bull, which was rumored earlier this year. Red Bull have a bevy of drivers in their arsenal and probably wouldn't have made the move.
The only time Montoya has ever driven a stock car was in a made-for-TV event, Tradin' Paint, in 2003. Jeff Gordon took the wheel of Montoya's Williams-BMW while Montoya sampled Gordon's DuPont Chevrolet.
"We'll run him in Busch and Nextel Cup next year to try and get him as much experience as quickly as possible," Ganassi said on Sunday morning. "We'll also try to work in some selected Busch events near the end of this season."
Montoya will bring a distinctive Latin presence to a sport mostly devoid of one. He has a home in Miami and raises the likelihood of a future NASCAR event outside the United States, probably in Mexico City. Note that he is not the first open-wheel star to make the switch to stock cars. Jimmy Vasser, Paul Tracy and Michel Jourdain Jr. have all dabbled in the Busch Series and the Craftsman Truck ranks.
Our NASCAR reporter is currently at an interview with Montoya and Ganassi in Joliet, IL at Chicagoland Speedway. A second article by our talented pool of writers will be forthcoming.
Montoya moves into Ganassi 42 Dodge in 2007