MIAMI – When the Race Of Champions announced Miami as its 2017 venue, Connie Montoya looked at her husband and said, “I want to go, you’ve got to do it.” And so, Juan Pablo Montoya entered.
The 1999 Indy car champion collected the “Champion of Champions” win in his maiden attempt, just as he did in 2000 when he kissed the bricks as an Indianapolis 500 rookie winner at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
“It’s unbelievable, today I’m actually regretting that I haven’t done this before,” Montoya said after the victory. “Normally at the end of the season, I used to go home, but now if you told me I had to fly 15 hours to go (to compete in the Race Of Champions), I would do it.”
Since Montoya lives in Miami, he didn’t have to go far this time. He defeated nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen in the Champion of Champions final in best-of-three heat races driving the KTM X-BOW. Kristensen finished runner-up for the fifth time at the ROC and tied the record for most appearances set by 1984 WRC champion Stig Blomqvist (15).
The day’s competition began with head-to-head group contests. The drivers of Group A matched up with Group B, and Group C with Group D. Three-time Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves advanced out of Group A for Team INDYCAR and Montoya advanced out of Group B. Alexander Rossi bested Global Rallycross champion and Andretti Autosport teammate Scott Speed to qualify for Group A, but lost both of his matchups and was eliminated. Tony Kanaan, James Hinchcliffe and Ryan Hunter-Reay were eliminated in Groups C and D.
“It was a pretty rough Day 1 at ROC,” Hunter-Reay said. “Tomorrow for the Nations Cup, Alexander Rossi and I will go to work, so hopefully we’ll have a good day tomorrow. We got eliminated in Round 1 today, but it’s how it goes here. It goes by fast. I had one where the hand brake stuck on me and turned the car around. It’s unfortunate, but it happens.”
Montoya handed extreme sports athlete Travis Pastrana his first losses of the weekend in the quarterfinal heats and advanced to the semifinals. Prior to facing Kristensen in the semifinals, Felipe Massa defeated Castroneves in both heats when the Brazilian countrymen met up in the quarterfinals.
Among the cheering crowd for Team INDYCAR was Beccy Hunter-Reay, wife of Ryan Hunter-Reay; Lauren Kanaan, wife of Tony Kanaan; Becky Dalton, girlfriend of James Hinchcliffe; and fellow Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Conor Daly and Gabby Chaves, the latter competing with Montoya for Team Colombia in Sunday’s ROC Nation’s Cup.
As expected, Connie Montoya was also present.
Castroneves, a South Florida resident along with Hunter-Reay, Kanaan and Montoya, made his debut in the event which is being held in the United States for the first time. With the diversity of drivers and tracks on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, he feels his colleagues in the series are well-suited for ROC success.
“INDYCAR drivers are capable to do better than other guys (here),” Castroneves said. “People think sometimes that Formula One is better than everything, but we have the best competition. I’m glad that we were able to be right there. But this is a fun competition and hopefully we keep performing well.”
Nations Cup competition begins Sunday at noon ET, with live coverage from Marlines Park on CBS Sports Network. Tickets to the event can still be purchased at raceofchampions.com.
See what the competing drivers had to say about the individual competition here: