Fan favourite, 42-year-old Colombian, Juan Pablo Montoya is relishing his first ever Le Mans 24 Hours in which he will share the United Autosports #32 Ligier with two drivers half his age – Will Owen (23) and Hugo de Sadeleer (21) – the Colombian closer to the fabled Triple Crown of Motorsport than any other living driver.
For his first 24 Hours of Le Mans, Montoya doesn’t seem to be feeling any extra pressure, “If we get a good result, that’s great. But if we don’t, I’m ok with that. I’m happy just being here.”
On 3 June at Test Day, Montoya hit the track for the first time at 24 Hours circuit just a few hours after finishing third at the Detroit round of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
Montoya is an expert in ultrafast circuits. In 2001, he scored his first Formula 1 win, at Monza in Italy. In 2000 and 2015, he won the Indianapolis 500. And in 2014, at the American oval circuit Pocono, he did the fastest 500-mile race of all time: 800 km at an average of 325 km/h in less than 2 hours 30 minutes.
After his first run at the legendary Sarthe circuit, the Colombian said, “The turns are extremely fast. They are true fast corners in the sense that if you go out, you can hurt yourself. There’s the right turn just before Indianapolis. And in the Porsche Curves, you keep as much speed as you can. I’ve loved fast turns my entire life.”
Montoya is also familiar with long races, counting three wins at the Rolex 24 at Daytona (2007, 2008 and 2013) on an oval circuit which for him includes a road portion inside the oval for that race, “At Daytona, I can always stay within the same tenth, but that’s impossible at the Le Mans circuit.”
“It’s wonderful but it’s not easy, there are a lot of traps. I was surprised by how demanding this circuit is. It takes so long to get back to the same place, if you don’t stay focused, you can forget what you need to do the following lap. But I kept going faster during Test Day.”
Montoya made 94 grand prix starts, winning seven times in a five-year career at the pinnacle of the sport with Williams and McLaren. He is one of 24 former and current F1 drivers competing at Le Mans this year.
Notably, much is being made of Fernando Alonso’s quest for the Triple Crown of Motorsport – winning the Indy 500, Le Mans 24 Hours and the Monaco Grand Prix – but Montoya is ahead of the Spaniard in the race to emulate Graham Hill, the only man to have achieved the feat.
Montoya won the Monaco Grand Prix in 2003 with Williams and has twice won the Indy 500 with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2000 and again in 2015 with Team Penske.
He only lacks an outright victory at Le Mans, upon which the Triple Crown will be his, but it is highly unlikely it will happen this time out driving an LMP2, but perhaps a prelude to a proper LMP1 effort in 2019?
Big Question: Juan or Fernando to be first to reach Triple Crown?