Montoya headlines Daytona 24H driver announcements

Montoya headlines Daytona 24H driver announcements

The second day of preseason testing for the Rolex Sports Car Series at Daytona International Speedway was highlighted by two major driver lineup announcements for the upcoming Rolex 24, which will take the green flag on Saturday, January ...

The second day of preseason testing for the Rolex Sports Car Series at Daytona International Speedway was highlighted by two major driver lineup announcements for the upcoming Rolex 24, which will take the green flag on Saturday, January 27.

Press conference: Juan Pablo Montoya.
Photo by Greg Aleck.
The first announcement came from Chip Ganassi Racing, which confirmed that Juan Pablo Montoya would join Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran in the No. 01 Ganassi Racing Lexus Riley for the 24-hour race and that Memo Rojas would team with two of least year's winners, Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon, in the No. 02 car. It had long been rumored that Montoya would compete in the Rolex 24, but it was not officially announced until Friday morning.

"I think (our) lineup (is) representative of what this team strives for each year, in each series - and that is contending for championships," explained team owner Chip Ganassi. "Last year's Daytona win was a big one for this team, and we think we have another great opportunity to duplicate that feat this year. We have, in the past, utilized drivers from other series to expand our Rolex 24 program, and Juan Pablo, Scott, Dan, and Salvador will complement our roster and provide us with another excellent chance of winning this race."

"We wanted to come back here and have two cars that could run to the end of the race," added Mike Hull, the managing director of Ganassi Racing. "Hopefully, we are going to be able to do that."

While all six drivers took turns answering questions, Montoya, the former Indy 500 winner, CART champion, and Formula 1 standout who switched to NASCAR for 2007, garnered most of the attention.

"It is pretty exciting to be here," said the Columbian, who will be making his first Rolex Series start. "It's great. I didn't even know where the road course went, but it is nice. I took a ride in the car this morning. The car is a lot fun to drive. Up to a certain point, 90 percent of the limit of the car is very easy to drive - it's very predictable. From there on you need to work it a bit harder. They are fun. They're easy on the power. The brakes feel really good. I was really impressed with the braking of the car.

"This is an awesome car to drive.  They're quick.  They handle well.  You
know, you can play with them.  In a way it's easy because it helps you pass
people.  It's not like a one-line race car that you're just hanging out the
whole time.  You can play around, move in, out.

"As everybody said, I think we've got a winning package, but a lot of people do as well. We need to work hard and keep the car in one piece to bring it to the end. I think if we do a good job, there is definitely a decent chance of winning. I think it would be great. It's nice to know coming here with a car you know you can win and won last year, a team that won. It makes it really exciting. Yes, I won big races and everything. But Daytona, especially in America, is a big deal. It would probably be a very nice win if you could win it before the 500."

After the Rolex 24, Pruett and Rojas will contest the balance of the series in the No. 01 entry, while Montoya, Dixon, and Wheldon return to their regular stock car and Indy Car Series driving duties.

In the second announcement of the day, Michael Shank Racing revealed that its regular drivers, Henri Zogaib and Ian James, will be joined by Paul Tracy and A.J. Allmendinger for the Rolex 24. The four drivers will share the team's No. 6 Lexus Riley. "I think team chemistry is really good right now," said team owner Michael Shank. "I think we have a lot of confidence. This is our fourth year as a team coming here. We finished fourth the first year. We blew an engine up the second year. We finished second here last year. Every year we learn something."

"I think it's just great," said Allmendinger, who has moved from ChampCars to NASCAR in 2007. "Last year with Mike, he gave me a great opportunity to come give a shot at the 24 hours. When you get as close as we did last year, you definitely want to come back. Thanks to Mike and Henri for choosing me and allowing me this opportunity."

Rolex Series pre-season testing at Daytona will continue today and back on Saturday with the final two sessions.

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