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Thursday, August 12, 2010

WITH VIDEOS: Driving In the 160 mph lane with Juan Montoya

Oakland Press photo/MATT MYFTIU
Juan Montoya stands by a Corvette ZR1 at the GM Proving Grounds in Milford after test driving the car

Normally, if someone told me they’d be driving me around a road course at 160 mph, I’d probably attempt to exit the vehicle as soon as possible.

But when the pilot of that vehicle is Juan Pablo Montoya, the formula Formula 1 ace turned NASCAR driver who was victorious last weekend at the road course in Watkins Glen, I was a bit more at ease.

In town for this weekend’s race at Michigan International Speedway in Brooklyn, Montoya took some time out of his day Thursday to visit the GM Proving Grounds in Milford and check out some of the latest Chevy products, and give some media members a taste of life in the fast line in the process.

This was all possible due to the car we were driving, a 638-horsepower Corvette ZR1, which is the top-of-the-line model that diehard collectors demanded, and runs almost $120,000, and provides an experience on par with many of the big foreign sportscars you’ll find driving the Audobon at breakneck speeds. If you want to be able to drive this fast, you have to spend some serious dough.

There really is no describing the feeling of traveling at such speeds. I did it for less than five minutes, gripping my door handle tightly the whole way, and even though I knew the person driving was more than capable of keeping it on the track, the human mind can’t help but fear the worst. As Montoya tried to get more and more speed out of the car, enjoying every minute of it, there were a couple moments where a bobble or two had me nervous.

Not so for Montoya. He, like most racecar drivers, is at home in a racecar. A mismanaged move that might scare a normal person driving that fast is just a challenge for him and his fellow drivers. This is why they’re the ones on the racetrack and we’re at home watching the race from our couch. Where we might cringe, he lets out a laugh of enjoyment, as he did several times during our brief ride.

And trust me, I’m fine with that. The thought of driving at up to 200 mph for four hours each week is not my idea of an easy paycheck.

Still, it was a very cool experience, and I’d be hard-pressed to find a better pilot. If Montoya shows the same skills at MIS Sunday that he showed at the Proving Grounds driving on a course he had never used before, he might just find his way to Victory Lane.

Reflecting on the season
Earlier in the afternoon, I got a chance to take a more leisurely ride in a Chevrolet Cruze around another track on the Proving Grounds.

Montoya said the win last week at Watkins Glen was a big confidence booster for the team.
“It was good for team motivation. We had a lot of success leading laps and qualifying, but weren’t closing the deal.”

Despite the fact that Montoya is not in the Chase and likely won’t make it like he did last season, he said he’s happier this season because he is contending in more races.

“We’re just have had really terrible luck,” he said. “We have like 7 DNFs this year, it’s kind of insane. Would I rather be in the Chase or be like this? I’ll take this, because you can build on it.”

Montoya also touched on another big issue this: driver rivalries. Despite so many big stars talking trash about each other, Montoya said most of that is just heat-of-the-moment talk and doesn’t carry over to future races.

“At least for myself it’s the heat of the moment. You’re out there to get the job done, and you’ll do whatever it takes to get the job done. Are you going to piss people off sometimes? Yes,” he said. “In this business you have a thick skin. And if you have the balls to get out of line, you have to have the balls to apologize.”

After one incident, Montoya lashed out at his own teammate, Jamie McMurray, but he said things like that are just part of the business and are quickly forgotten, even if no discussion is had to officially settle the issue.

“We’re both race drivers, we both know what we’re doing and why things happen. You go and solve the issues and you talk about it. You don’t even really need to talk about it. Some people like talking about it, but I’m good either way.”

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