Montoya's team wins at Daytona
Published: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 29, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH — Signing Juan Pablo Montoya is already paying dividends for Chip Ganassi, and the start of the NASCAR season is still three weeks off.
Montoya, co-driving a Lexus Riley Daytona Prototype with veteran road racer Scott Pruett and Mexican phenom Salvador Duran, is in elite company. He and racing great Mario Andretti are the only drivers to have won the Indianapolis 500, an American open-wheel championship, a Formula One race and, the Colombian's latest conquest, a sports car endurance race at Daytona International Speedway.
"I'm back here for the Daytona 500 in a couple of weeks," said Montoya, set to begin his first full season in NASCAR's Nextel Cup series. "Hopefully, we can do something about that one, too."
Andretti won that NASCAR race in 1967.
Ganassi was asked if the win in the Rolex 24 bodes well for Montoya's move back to the U.S. after several successful but unfulfilling years in F1?
"It's a good start, I'll tell you that," said Ganassi, for whom Montoya won the CART title in 1999 and Indy in 2000.
Montoya gave his team the lead Sunday morning and Pruett kept it to the finish. This is the second straight year that Ganassi's team has won the grueling 24-hour event. Former IRL champions Dan Wheldon and Scott Dixon combined with NASCAR driver Casey Mears to win the 2006 race.
"This was just a total team win," said Ganassi, the first team owner to win this race back-to-back since Al Holbert in 1986 and 1987. "Al was somebody I wanted to be like when I was growing up and I'm going to think about this for a long time."
The winning car covered 668 laps and 2,378 miles. The race was slowed by 13 full-course caution flags and a 78-minute red flag stoppage at the halfway point after a GT class car knocked down 80 feet of guardrail.
Two cars finished on the lead lap. With only three hours to go, three cars were nose to tail for the lead, separated by less than 6 seconds, with Montoya third and battling Scotland's Ryan Dalziel and Italy's Max Angelelli.
"It's amazing," Montoya said in the tumultuous Victory Circle. "It's incredible after 20 hours there are three cars on the same lap. It was like qualifying every lap. Very exciting."
Dalziel, a rookie in the Champ Car World Series this season, held off the two veterans until he pitted during the 24th hour. That gave the lead to Angelelli, but the former Daytona winner was quickly passed by Montoya and the eventual winners led the rest of the way.
During the 25th hour, Pruett took over the cockpit from his Colombian teammate, while Dalziel gave up his seat in the Pontiac Riley prototype to longtime open-wheel racer Patrick Carpentier and road racing ace Jan Magnussen took over the third-place Pontiac Riley for Angelelli.
Magnussen managed to put the car also shared by two-time Daytona winner Wayne Taylor and four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon into second place. But he wound up third, two laps down, after brake problems sent him on an off-course excursion and forced a long pit stop during the final half hour.
It was still a great showing considering their problems. Among them, the team had no clutch for most of the race and had to be push-started by the crew after every pit stop.
Carpentier, also co-driving with Darren Manning and Milka Duno, one of only two women in the 70-car race, finished second — 1 minute, 14.749 seconds behind Pruett.
"This is very cool," said Pruett, who added the overall win here in 1994 to six other class victories. "It's huge for Ganassi. The car never missed a beat. I was getting a little nervous there at the end, but the car was just rock solid the whole time."
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