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Montoya heads to NASCAR

NEWS STORY
09/07/2006

Juan Pablo Montoya has secured a deal to drive for his former CART employer Chip Ganassi in NASCAR next season.

The team announced the deal today ahead of the USG Sheetrock 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway in Illinois, where Montoya was present.

Having won the 1998 F3000 Championship, Montoya drove for Ganassi in CART in 1999, winning the championship at the first attempt, a year later he won the Indy 500, again at the first attempt.

In 2001, he moved to Formula One, joining Ralf Schumacher at WilliamsF1. After four hit and miss seasons the Colombian moved to McLaren where he teamed up with Kimi Raikkonen.

Although there is no doubting Montoya's raw speed, there have been too many mistakes, while many feel that the lack of results is due to the fact that he has never found the right F1 team, his temperament better suited to an outfit - such as Jordan - which might be built around him.

Ahead of a massive game of F1 musical chairs in readiness for 2007, there was much speculation as to the Colombian's future, however, in all honesty it was hard to see a team into which he could readily fit, though he had been linked with several, including Red Bull and Toyota.

This morning, ahead of the announcement, Montoya met up with members of his crew and attended a 'closed door' meeting with NASCAR officials and NASCAR President, Mike Helton.

In a statement announcing the deal, Ganassi said: "We are thrilled to be getting a driver of this calibre to put into the No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge. Juan Pablo is one of the best race drivers in the world.

"He is a former CART Champion, Indy 500 winner and Formula One driver that will bring a much needed veteran presence to our team."

Ganassi later admitted that he hoped Montoya could even enter a number of races this year once the F1 season is over, however this would require the cooperation of McLaren, since the Colombian is under contract until the end of the year.

At a subsequent press conference, Montoya said: "I am so happy to be entering the fastest growing racing league in the world. I've thought about this for quite some time but the opportunity had to be right. I've known and worked with Chip for a number of years and this situation could not be better for me."

In 2003, Montoya swapped cars with NASCAR Champion Jeff Gordon, the pair running a number of 'demonstration' laps on the Indianapolis road circuit.

"This was so much fun," said the Colombian, "I really enjoyed myself. The NASCAR car moves around a lot more than the F1, it is much more active, but it also gave me a very good feedback. Once I underestimated the weight of the car when I saw a corner and thought I would make it, but I was braking too late and ruined a tyre. Also I found the power of the engine impressive."

Montoya's departure from F1, and more importantly McLaren, will add to the speculation over who will partner Fernando Alonso next season, and Lewis Hamilton is sure to be one of the names at the top of the list.

Pitpass has already reported that according to its sources, Michael Schumacher is to remain at Ferrari, Kimi Raikkonen will join Renault, and Heikki Kovalainen will head to Red Bull, probably partnered by Mark Webber.

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