As if NASCAR's upcoming 2007 season didn't already have enough excitement going for it (Toyota's entry into Nextel Cup, the Car of the Future's debut), now we have Formula 1 driver Juan Pablo Montoya joining Ganassi Racing.
Apparently Montoya's contract was not going to be renewed with McLaren-Mercedes and no other competitive F1 teams had openings, so he called up former boss Chip Ganassi. Neither Ganassi nor Montoya have indicated that an IRL ride was discussed, but certainly a NASCAR seat is closer to the salary range Montoya is used to in F1. In any case, Montoya certainly has the credentials (Indy 500 win, CART Championship, 7 wins in Formula 1).
Given that history, I find it curious that NASCAR will require him to "qualify" in order to be eligible to run the Daytona 500 next season. Of course, considering the track record of other open-wheel road racers in NASCAR (John Andretti, Scott Pruett, Adrian Fernandez, Michel Jourdain, Jr., Christian Fittipaldi, and most recently Paul Tracy), NASCAR may have a point. Montoya will not finish the season in F1, having been released by McLaren-Mercedes effective immediately and replaced by Spanish driver Pedro de la Rosa.
Theoretically, he should be able to begin testing a Busch or Nextel Cup car almost immediately. Chip Ganassi is still working out details of the release with Montoya's former employer, but said that Montoya would not be in a Busch car at Watkins Glen, as many had hoped.
Rumors were rampant last week of another open-wheel driver's possible shift to NASCAR. T.J. Patrick, father of Danica Patrick, was at Chicagoland Speedway for the Nextel Cup event and told a reporter that he wanted his daughter in Nextel Cup once her IRL contract with Rahal-Letterman Racing was up at the end of this season. He later admitted that although he wants the move to happen, Danica is less than thrilled with the idea.
Her goal is still an Indy 500 win, according to T.J., Danica has not commented on the story. Her season in the IRL this year has been less than spectacular, but the whole team is struggling with a new chassis and obviously hasn't come to grips with the setup as of yet. I suspect that one of the team drivers may be replaced next season by young Graham Rahal, who has been having a stellar year in Formula Atlantic.
While on the subject of IRL teams, Eddie Cheever announced last week that he was suspending operations of his Indy Car Series program due to lack of sponsorship. Cheever will continue to run his Grand Am and Indy Pro Series operations, but his defection further reduces the IRL field to 18 cars, a similar number to that normally fielded by the rival Champ Car series.
Recent heightened rumors of a merger between the two open-wheel series seem to have subsided yet again, due mostly to suspicion and fear on the part of the principals. But another bone of contention between the IRL and Champ Car is equipment compatibility.
IRL uses normally aspirated Honda engines while Champ Car runs turbocharged Ford Cosworths. IRL employs Dallara chassis, while Champ Car is set to unveil the new Panoz DP01 during the San Jose Grand Prix event two weeks from now. The DP01 will replace the aging Lola chassis that has been utilized by Champ Car for the past six seasons. About the only commonality between the two series is that both use Firestone tires.
A.J. Allmendinger scored the "threepeat," taking his third win in a row and third since joining Forsythe racing at Toronto last Sunday. Allmendinger led teammate Paul Tracy to the checker, the first 1-2 finish for Forsythe in some time. But there may be trouble in Paradise.
Allmendinger, who has been operating on a gentleman's agreement basis in Champ Car, first with RuSport and then with Forsythe, has gotten himself an agent. Said agent immediately proceeded to upset Gerry Forsythe, who as a self-made millionaire is not used to being dictated to. If cooler heads don't prevail, Allmendinger's streak may end at three . . . not just for this season, but for his open-wheel career. Stay tuned for further developments.