Juan Pablo Montoya is one of the most charismatic and fastest racing drivers of his generation, as he proved once again by winning ROC’s Champion of Champions trophy on debut in Miami 12 months ago.
The Colombian is also one of a select few drivers to seamlessly transition from US oval racing to Formula 1, before returning to the States for stints in NASCAR and IndyCar.
But it was actually in Europe that Montoya began turning heads when, as a fresh faced 21-year-old, he won three times and scored as many pole positions in his debut Formula 3000 campaign. The championship runner-up caught the eye of then-Formula 1 World Champions Williams, who signed him as a test driver. The following year Montoya combined his test duties with clinching the F3000 crown.
He might have graduated to Formula 1 the following season were it not for an agreement between Williams and Chip Ganassi Racing that saw Montoya replace the F1-bound reigning Champ Car champion Alex Zanardi. JP duly dominated the 1999 season en route to becoming a rookie overall champion, and followed that up with Indianapolis 500 victory at his first attempt the following May.
Montoya was now hot property and it was no surprise to see Williams finally take up their option on him for 2001. Once again he proved a sensation, memorably passing reigning champion Michael Schumacher in Brazil before securing three poles and a first F1 victory in Italy later that year.
Another six wins, including the 2003 Monaco Grand Prix, would follow until Montoya – who had joined McLaren for 2005 – sensationally quit F1 midway through 2006 to return to the States and enter NASCAR with his old outfit, Chip Ganassi Racing. Just two victories and nine poles over the next nine years was a meagre return, and it was no surprise to see him re-join the IndyCar fold in 2014.
Proving that he had lost none of his speed, Montoya claimed his second Indy 500 victory with Team Penske in 2015 and went on to finish second in that year’s overall standings. He now competes with the same legendary squad in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.