Another brick in the wall

Brick ~ a traumatic event that makes up the mental wall created by the protagonist.

Mario Andretti, Mark Donohue, George Follmer, Dan Gurney, Bob Bondurant, Jim Clark, Chuck Daigh, Vic Elford, Frank Gardner, Walt Hansgen, David Hobbs, Innes Ireland, Lella Lombardi, Brian Naylor, Jack Oliver, Sam Posey, Pedro Rodriguez, Bob Said, Jo Schlesser, Rolf Stommelen, Bobby Unser, Christian Fittipaldi, Danny Sullivan, Bobby Rahal….the list of F1 drivers who tried their luck with NASCAR is long. But success eluded each one of them.

So why is Juan Pablo Montoya leaving Formula 1 for NASCAR? Simply because he could not secure a seat with a competitive F1 team for 2007. That’s a sad ending to someone who was hailed as Michael Schumacher’s nemesis.

While it is almost academic as to what went wrong with his career at Williams BMW and then McLaren Merecedes, it is worth understanding why he is heading to NASCAR and not IRL / Champ Cars. After all, NASCAR remains a national series with very little international interest.

The answer lies in what NASCAR president Mike Helton said. “Juan Pablo Montoya’s entry into NASCAR is historic. It encompasses all the things that are important to NASCAR, the things that we’ve worked very hard to establish. Juan Pablo is someone who touches not only the Hispanic fan base, but also is a driver with an international following. NASCAR has had success with drivers from other racing backgrounds who have come to NASCAR and done well, but to have Juan Pablo say, ‘I want to compete here,’ is historic.”

The truth is, despite being regarded as the ultimate marketing machine, NASCAR has remained very American. So signing Montoya, the feisty driver from the pinnacle of motorsport, will, in theory, boost interest in the Hispanic markets, although much will depend on how he does.

“When people think of moving from Formula 1 to NASCAR, some people think I’m crazy. I think it’s exciting. I think it’s a great challenge for my career. Coming here is probably going to be my toughest challenge ever. I think when you go watch the races and follow it you know one weekend you can be up front and the next weekend you can be terrible. You have 36 races and race against really great guys, and I think sometimes people don’t know how tough it is out here and how many great drivers are out here. To come here and be part of it and learn is going to be exciting. I think a lot of people are going to build this up and say I’m going to come here and win and do great things. Of course, I want to do that. I think it’s going to be a lot tougher than people think.”

“Formula 1 is very exciting cars and technology,” says Montoya, “but anyone who watches the races knows it’s not the most exciting thing you can watch. How hard is it to pass a car in Formula 1? You pass them and you touch wheels and you’re an animal.”

“I know there’s going to be races we’re going to be hanging out in 30th place and you’ve just got to be happy to bring the car home and happy you can race the next weekend. You might bring the car home fifth or 10th or 15th. You have so many races. If you have a bad race in Formula 1 you’ve got to wait two or three weeks for another one. Here you have a bad race, the next week you just keep going on and on.”

There’s no doubt that it will be a major challenge for Montoya, but his ballsy racing style should work for him in NASCAR, which is a highly physical and brutal racing format. His former boss seems to be pretty upbeat about the Colombian’s chances.

“I’ve seen this guy adapt to cars and adapt to tracks like no other driver I’ve ever seen,” says Ganassi. “I don’t have any question that he’ll be able to adapt to a Cup car and Busch car. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. It’s going to be a lot of work over the winter.”

No wonder he bid goodbye to F1 with immediate effect.

According to reports in the Guardian newspaper, there was a clause in Montoya’s contract stating that he couldn’t sign a deal with another racing team without previously informing the management at McLaren.

However, Montoya apparently did just that, signing with the CHIP GANASSI NASCAR racing team for 2007 and announcing the deal on Sunday. But despite the breach of contract, the Daily Mail reports that Montoya can expect a £2million pay-off on his contract for the eight races he will miss this season. Does it make sense?

It does, if you were Ron Dennis. After all, who wants to keep a driver who isn’t motivated anymore! De la Rosa on his part managed to score some valuable points when Montoya was out with injury last year. And he is sure to be motivated enough to convince the team to pair him with Fernando Alonso next year.

More importantly, McLaren is partially-owned by DaimlerChrysler and Montoya in NASCAR will be driving a Dodge – an American brand owned by DaimlerChrysler. So it’s a win-win situation for both Dennis as well as Montoya.

Of course, the Colombian is no stranger to racing in America, having won the 1999 CART championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500 while driving Indy cars for Ganassi. However, of the twenty four F1 drivers who went the NASCAR way till date, only Mario Andretti was a Formula One World Champion. Even he struggled to crack the stock car series. So what awaits Montoya would be nothing short of a monumental challenge. Let’s all hope that the NASCAR dream, like his F1 dream, doesn’t turn into yet another brick in the wall.


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