Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dynamic Daytona Debut; Montoya, Ganassi Team Drive to 24 Hours Victory

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Dynamic Daytona Debut; Montoya, Ganassi Team Drive to 24 Hours Victory

Article excerpt

Byline: DON COBLE

DAYTONA BEACH -- Juan Pablo Montoya continued to build on his impressive racing credentials Sunday, winning the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona less than three weeks before he embarks on a new, full-time career in NASCAR.

The Colombian teamed with road-racing ace Scott Pruett and Salvador Duran in a Lexus-powered Riley prototype to win the twice-around-the-clock race on the 3.56-mile Daytona International Speedway road course. It was the second victory in a row for car owner Chip Ganassi and Toyota Racing Development in the sports car marathon.

The Jacksonville-prepared prototype for Brumos Porsche took fourth, driven by Hurley Haywood, J.C. France, Joao Barbosa and Roberto Moreno.

Montoya was behind the wheel when he finally separated himself from a three-car battle during the 21st hour. With three hours to go, the top three cars were nose-to-tail. An hour later, Montoya had the winning sports car a half-lap ahead and pulling away. Pruett drove the final leg and was nearly three miles ahead of the second-place Pontiac-Riley for Mika Duno, Patrick Carpentier, Darren Manning and Ryan Dalziel, and two laps ahead of the third-place Pontiac-Riley of Wayne Taylor, Max Angelelli, Jan Magnussen and NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon.

"There was no way we going to catch the Ganassi car," Carpentier said. "We decided [in the final two hours] to ride it out and finish second."

Duno became the highest-finishing woman in the race's 45-year history.

To win, Montoya, Pruett and Duran steered clear of a litany of mistakes by slower GT drivers, kept their car on track during a night of rain and won the stretch-drive sprint with two other cars.

Montoya, who will be at Las Vegas today testing his Nextel Cup series car, now has wins in the Indianapolis 500, Grand Prix of Monaco and Daytona. He joined Mario Andretti as the only drivers to win at Indianapolis, the 24-hour race at Daytona and in Formula One.

Pruett now has a track-record seven class wins in the 24-hour races, including two overall victories. He also tied James Weaver for 13 Grand Am Sports Car Series wins, the most in series history.

Montoya and Duran were making their Daytona debuts. Montoya also won the 2000 Indianapolis 500 in his debut.

"This is a big deal, like when I won the [Indianapolis] 500," the Colombian said. "It was a big deal when I got out of the car. Nothing on the car failed the whole race. We didn't have a single misfire.

"It was pretty tough," Montoya said. "They were going at it pretty hard. It got to a point when I was running behind them I thought it wasn't going to happen. When I got a clear track when I got ahead of them, I checked out. You want to be the guy who got ahead, but you don't want to be the guy who screwed up."

The top three cars pulled away during the night by avoiding serious trouble. …

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