Trading places

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, June 11, 2003 - What do you get when you hold an event called Tradin' Paint? Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon traded cars today at the Brickyard's 2.606-mile Grand Prix circuit today and the result was fun. Lots of...

INDIANAPOLIS MOTOR SPEEDWAY, June 11, 2003 - What do you get when you hold an event called Tradin' Paint? Juan Pablo Montoya and Jeff Gordon traded cars today at the Brickyard's 2.606-mile Grand Prix circuit today and the result was fun. Lots of fun for the drivers and their respective teams.

Taking over a raft of garages at what would be pit-in for the Formula One crowd, a small cadre from Hendricks Motorsports and Williams F1 set about preparing their cars for these two aces to try their hands.

Call this a publicity stunt, planned for nearly two years but it took until today for the schedules to jibe. Gordon has two days before he's expected at Michigan while Montoya needs to be in Montreal tomorrow. Now, the only variable was the weather. Despite calls for thunderstorms, Wednesday morning dawned with partial sun and stayed that way until late in the afternoon, well after the car swaps were complete.

Both drivers did installation laps in their cars and set down baseline speeds. Gordon's reported baseline was 1:38.7, while Montoya turned a 1:15.2. Once the photos at the yard of bricks were complete, it was time to see just what the differences are between drivers and cars on the same circuit. In all, Montoya turned a total of six laps in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo while Gordon had seven tours of the flat circuit.

"It was really good, actually," Montoya shrugged after taking his first laps in Gordon's Winston Cup Chevy, which has won six races. "The car handles really well in the corners, especially the higher speed corners because it moves around a lot and you can really play with it," he added with some body language.

"I think this should be the first annual Tradin' Paint session and we should do it every year," Gordon insisted. "I'm going to Sears Point [Infineon Raceway] in a couple of weeks and I won't know what hit me," he laughed.

"It's like everything is opposite in these two cars" from what would be normal for each driver, both said. "They said to me you got to brake like 250 meters or something and when I first braked there (in turn 1), I nearly missed the corner," Montoya said. "The corner comes up so fast because you can drive in so deep because of the braking power, I about missed the corner because it came up too fast," Gordon agreed.

Once they figured it all out, the lap times came down appreciably, with Montoya acing Gordon with a 1:38.6 and Gordon coming close with a 1:16.5 lap, lap times taken with this writer's stopwatch and totally unofficial. It was simply two professionals doing their jobs and, most of all, having fun. The FW24 Gordon drove was the same tub Montoya drove at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2002.

"This has been an awesome experience. The more laps I drove, the more comfortable I got. This is the coolest thing I've ever done and no expectations could have prepared me for this," Gordon exulted. "I'll take this experience with me forever. It's amazing. It's just like point and shoot. You just drive in there, stop, turn and just go to the throttle as hard as you can. He told me that but I didn't believe him." He does now.

Montoya shrugged off questions about getting comfortable with a car so heavy. "I went out and the only thing that really you've got to learn is how far you can brake and how deep, how long you can stay on the brakes and everything." The Hendrick team improved the Dupont Chevy before Montoya took his second stint behind the tall wheel and "the car was very reactive to the changes. I really like the power of the Winston Cup car and it's very neutral in the corners."

As for the brakes on the Cup car, Montoya could only say, "if you could put better brakes into it, it would go a lot quicker." Gordon agreed: "I tell them that every weekend."

These two guys had never met before today, but racers are racers and with each tour, the duo managed to better their speeds. "The more and more I drove it," Gordon said of the FW24, "obviously the more fun that I had because the more comfortable I was with it, but I can't even describe."

"In the NASCAR, you go in and it's like you go, you go, and you got to lift and, you know, the visual effect that in a way you're not feeling [like you're] going that quick. But the car is moving and something I really like the car gave me a lot of feedback."

Montoya never put a wheel off the pavement, just missing the turn-in for the first corner in his first stint, but Gordon did, taking a quick off- circuit excursion in the FW24. "I just didn't slow the car down fast enough and so I realized that I carried a little bit too much speed in there and went back to the brake. There's a little bit of a bump as you turn that corner to the left (at the end of the Hulman straight) and I sort of did all the stuff at the wrong time so it just popped the back end around. The car was very good on pavement but not very good in the grass."

Gordon learned a valuable lesson. Each time he left the pit road, it looked tenuous to the media looking on, but once on the front straight heading for turn 1, the BMW engine was in full howl. Launch control is quite tricky to figure out, but Gordon did a full-on launch toward the end of his laps without any wheelspin. Montoya later reminded Jeff "We've got an anti-stall system in there," but Gordon responded "you weren't supposed to bring that up."

Montoya insisted he came in blind and no expectations. "I was going to go out there, you know, drive a car I've never driven and just have some fun. As drivers we are always going to go out and push as hard as we can. We're not going to go out there and just cruise. We want some action!"

Gordon "wanted to push the car enough to feel what is was capable of and feel good about myself. I drove the car at speed enough to really get a feel for it and I'm happy about that. I didn't know what to expect." The pumping action this 3-time Brickyard 400 winner did with his arms after his first trip around the road course said quite enough. He was having fun. Lots of fun.

Montoya was impressed with Gordon's adaptability to the technology-laden BMW Williams F1 machine. There were some pundits placing bets on the number of times Gordon would stall the FW24 - none - but crew chief Robbie Loomis acknowledged, "he was worried about that." The Dupont crew were laughing "they put the 18,000 chip in" the BMW V10. This car has set the fastest recorded lap in F1 and can rev to 19Krpm.

"That traction control is a beautiful thing," Gordon waxed after discovering he could plant his foot back into a near spin and catapult out of a problem. "the corners come up so fast and I'm used to brake, downshift, power on. With this very demanding car, you just point and shoot."

It "didn't take long to adjust" to the 3500-pound Cup car. "I'm here to have some fun driving a car I've never driven before. I came here to push it around. I was going for it. Braking is the biggest difference in this car. Somebody should throw a parachute or something," Juan Pablo explained. "What you've got with the Cup car is what you've got. You don't lose a lot of downforce at faster speeds with this car, but for me, I had to slow down my reactions and say 'okay'. I was really surprised how light the Cup car felt."

Next week Juan Pablo Montoya will have a proper Southern accent?

At the end of the day after both did their hot laps, the schedule called for parade laps in their borrowed cars. As Gordon took off Loomis looked over at Montoya and leered, "I got your car and you can't catch me!" Like a bunch of kids, Gordon and Montoya began playing tag and you could almost hear the laughter over the grunt of the Chevy and squeal of the BMW at speed.

Consider this: during each season, Juan Pablo Montoya's BMW Williams F1 team builds a maximum of eight cars for Montoya and Ralf Schumacher. Gordon said the Hendrick team has a stable of 3-4 road-course cars (of which this was one) and around 15 oval cars to race. Of course their budgets are remarkably different as the team with few cars spends tons more money.

"I know my neck is gonna hurt tomorrow," Gordon revealed after exiting the Williams F1 racer. Slammed back in his seat on take-off and getting his head pushed to his chest on deceleration Gordon got quite the workout. He now has a lot more respect for what it takes to drive a Grand Prix car. And Juan Pablo Montoya, who hasn't driven a car with a roof since 1994 in Mexico, well, he now knows the nuances of tossing a 3500-pound Winston Cup machine in anger. And having fun doing it.

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About this article
Series Formula 1 , NASCAR Cup
Drivers Juan Pablo Montoya
Teams Williams