Montoya, Juan Pablo: 1975—: Race Car Driver

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Juan Pablo Montoya: 1975: Race car driver

Formula One (F1) auto racing is the most elite, well funded, avidly followed, and competitive sport in the world. The drivers of F1 are the most talented racing car drivers in the world, and Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya quickly became a serious contender in the series after entering F1 in 2001. In a sport where the stakes are incredibly high, Montoya is known for his raw drive and seemingly relaxed attitude. "Formula One is an industry in which seconds mean millions, where mistakes can be financially catastrophic, where the careers of dozens of the sharpest, best remunerated engineers can be jeopardized by one touch of carelessness," wrote Jim White in the London Guardian. White added, "In a world where nothing can be left to chance, here was a driver who did not have to try too hard." Having a fast car helps, too. Montoya's high-tech BMW-Williams engine is reputed to be the most powerful in the series, with upwards of 900 horsepower.

Montoya was born on September 20, 1975, in Bogotá, Colombia. His father was an architect and former amateur go-kart racer there. Montoya first drove a racing kart at age five, and won the children's division of the Colombian National Karting Championship in 1984. He was so little when he started racing that "he learned to drive by looking through the hole in the steering wheel," his father recalled in an interview with the Chicago Tribune. Karting is an immensely popular sport in Europe and South America, and also is a fertile seeding ground for racing car drivers. When it became clear that Montoya's interest in racing was far more than a hobby, his father mortgaged the family home to support his son's driving career. Race car driving is a notoriously expensive sport, which is the reason why so many racing car drivers come from wealthy families. Montoya's father's investment paid off; in 2001, his yearly salary was estimated at $8 million.

Raced Way to Teen Karting Champion

Montoya moved quickly up the ranks in the karting world, earning many national and international titles as a teen. He placed second in the Colombian National Karting Championship in 1985, and in 1986 was the local and national junior champion. During his time in karting's Komet Division, from 1987 to 1989, he won several titles in the local and national junior divisions. He also won the 1990 World Karting Junior Cup in Lonato, Italy, and retained the cup the next year in Laval, France.

At a Glance . . .

Born Juan Pablo Montoya Roldan on September 20, 1975, in Bogotá, Colombia.

Career: Race car driver, including competition in Formula N, British Formula 3, and Formula One racing, 1992; BMW-Williams team, test driver, 1997; BMW-Williams team, racer, 2001.

Selected awards: National Kart Champion, children's division, 1984; Kart Junior World Champion, 1990, 1991; placed first in the following races: Copa Formula Renault, Colombia, 1992; National Tournament Swift GTI, 1993; Formula N Class, Mexico, 1994; Bogotá Six Hours, 1995, 1996; British Formula 3 series, 1996; FIA International Formula 3000 Championship for Team Super Nova, 1998; CART FedEx Championship Series, 1999; Indianapolis 500 on his first attempt, 2000; sixth place, F1 Championship for BMW-Williams, 2001; third place, F1 Championship for BMW-Williams, 2002.

Address: Office c/o Target/Chip Ganassi Racing, 7777 Woodland Dr, Indianapolis, IN, 46278-1794.

By age 17 Montoya had won all there was to win in Colombia. In 1992 he traveled to the United States to attend the Skip Barber Racing School. He then returned to Colombia to earn five pole positions (as the fastest pre-race qualifier) and four wins in eight races in the Copa Formula Renault series. In 1993 he won the National Championship Tournament Swift GTI with seven pole positions and seven wins in eight races. The same year, he won his class in Karting's Sudan 125, and took third place overall in the American Barber Saab Championship series. He scored pole position and a track record in the prototype class in Mexico, and also won three out of five races there, with four pole positions, in the Formula N Class series.

Montoya traveled to England in 1995, placed third in the British Formula Vauxhall Championship, and returned to Bogotá to win his class in the Bogotá Six Hour endurance race. In 1996, after taking fourth place in the Marlboro Masters race in Zandvoorth, the Netherlands, winning two races in the British Formula 3 series, and repeating his win at the Bogotá Six Hour, Montoya was invited to England by Mercedes Benz to race in the Silverstone ITC. After finishing in second place in the Fédération Internationale de l'Automobile (FIA) International Formula 3000 (F3000) series, Montoya got his first crack at Formula One by serving as a test driver for the BMW-Williams team. In 1998 he came back to win the F3000 Championship.

Became Youngest Champion Ever

In 1999, his first year driving in the Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) FedEx racing series, Montoya became the youngest-ever champion of the series, earning pole position for all seven of his race wins. "I expected to do well, but whoa, this is unbelievable," Montoya told USA Today at the end of his first season. His 2000 return to the series for the Chip Ganessi team was less spectacular, with six pole positions and only three wins, but he won the Indianapolis 500 that year, in his first attempt.

Montoya became a full-time driver for BMW-Williams for the 2000 F1 season. His first year in the elite series was full of impetuous rookie errors, but he clearly demonstrated he had the potential to become a serious contender in the sport. He finished the season in a respectable sixth place overall in the championship, with one race victory at the Italian Grand Prix, four top-three finishes, three pole positions, and six finishes in the 17-race season. "With a combination of youth, speed, and control," wrote Jared Kotler of the Chicago Tribune, "Montoya is being compared with other greats, including Brazilian F1 champ Ayrton Senna" who is considered one of the greatest drivers in the history of the sport, but who died in a crash in 1994.

In the 2002 F1 season, Montoya proved he was in fact a serious contender for the series championship. He finished third overall for the title, with 13 finishes out of 17 races and seven pole positions. His seven top-three finishes included third-place finishes at the Austrian, British, and Belgian Grands Prix and second place in the Grands Prix of Australia, Malaysia, Spain, and Germany. Montoya showed singular focus throughout the season in chasing five-time World Champion Michael Schumacher of Germany, who drove for Ferrari. "We're both drivers," Montoya said, of Schumacher, to Liz Clarke of USA Today. "We're both trying to win, and that's what we're here for. I'm getting paid by Williams to try to beat everybodyincluding him." Clarke compared the two drivers: "Montoya races with abandon and spontaneity, as if daring ran in his blood. Schumacher, by contrast, is a study of precision and consistency." Schumacher's brother Ralf is Montoya's teammate at BMW-Williams, and the rivalry between the two is notorious.

Approached Races with Relaxed Attitude

The Colombian's success in F1 reinvigorated interest for the sport in his home country. And in a country preoccupied with a 35-year civil conflict, drug trafficking, and rampant violent crime, Montoya became a national hero. "It's a country that needs heroes, but one that's tired of its soccer heroes," Ricardo Soler of the Colombian Automotive Federation told the Chicago Tribune. "Juan Pablo has become the alternative." When Montoya started appearing on the international racing scene, children started flocking to enroll in beginner kart courses. His face appeared in countless Colombian magazines and billboards, and he appeared television commercials for beer, airlines, and cell phones.

What sets Montoya apart from his competitors is his apparent lack of concern with the infinite details of the sport. While other drivers are famous for their meticulous fitness and rigorous physical training programs, Montoya never so much as steps into a gym to work out. As teams, sponsors, highly trained engineers, and millions of fans worldwide gear up for a season in the multi-million dollar sport, Montoya has shrugged off any notion of pressure or stress. "I just get in the car and see what happens," he told Jim White. "You can't do anything else. My job is to drive. That's all."



Atlanta Journal-Constitution, September 19, 1999, p. E11.

Chicago Tribune, February 28, 1999, p. 16; September 19, 1999, p. 18; September 28, 2001.

New York Times, May 27, 2001, p. 5; May 26, 2002, p. 13.

Sports Illustrated, May 10, 1999, p. 88.

USA Today, May 28, 1999, p. 1F; June 12, 2001, p. C8.

Washington Post, September 28, 2002, p. D12.


"Interview Juan Pablo Montoya (February 25, 2002)," Guardian Online, (London, England), (February 5, 2003).

"Juan Pablo Montoya,", (February 5, 2003).

"Juan Pablo Montoya," Formula One Database, (February 5, 2003).

Juan Pablo Montoya Official Site, (February 5, 2003).

Brenna Sanchez

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Montoya, Juan Pablo: 1975—: Race Car Driver

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