Exit stage left for Juan Pablo Montoya…

Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya has announced that he is leaving Formula One to join NASCAR racing in America.

The McLaren driver will reunite with Chip Ganassi Racing, with whom he achieved spectacular success when racing in the United States, winning the 1999 Champ Car (CART) title and the 2000 Indianapolis 500.

The shock news was announced by Montoya and Ganassi in a press conference at the Chicagoland NASCAR event on Sunday morning (July 9th).

Montoya’s future has been one of the key talking points of the feverish F1 ‘silly season’.

McLaren had not taken up its option to retain him for 2007 and after a disappointing 2006 campaign to date his place in the Woking team was in jeopardy – especially with a list of other candidates in the frame for the high demanded seat alongside new arrival Fernando Alonso (the current championship leader).

With Toyota expected to re-sign Jarno Trulli for another three years and Red Bull Racing’s interest apparently on the wane, Montoya’s options to remain in Formula One were looking limited.

Ganassi recently expressed an interest in renewing his association with Montoya but it was assumed any overtures would be in connection with his IRL IndyCar squad.

Instead the Colombian will take on a completely new challenge after signing what was described as a “multi-year” deal.

He will become the first big-name F1 regular to compete in NASCAR full-time in the 58-year history of the stock car category.

Apparently Jacques Villeneuve was thinking on the same wave length and joining NASCAR at the end of his F1 career. Even though the Canadian is achieving solid results in the BMW Sauber this season, the team hasn’t made a decision whether he will drive for them in 2007. If Villeneuve leaves, then we have lost another great driver from the ‘pinnacle of motor racing.’

As for Montoya, I think he made the right choice as he seems to be disillusioned by the politics in Grand Prix racing. Plus, since he join McLaren from Williams back in 2005, Montoya has been out-performed by Kimi Raikkonen. It doesn’t help that he had that ‘tennis/motocross’ injury last year…

I will miss Montoya in Formula One as he was an exciting driver to watch. Brave and committed. His passing move on Michael Schumacher at Brazil in only his third race in 2001 was fantastic. And that amazing 160mph+ qualifying lap around Monza in 2002 was simply incredible.

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