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IndyCar’s Montoya enjoys memories in return to Road America

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ELKHART LAKE, Wis. (AP) Juan Montoya has vivid, visceral memories of competing at Road America’s 14-turn, 4.048-mile circuit.

Even though he’s 15 years removed from competition at the road course, the routine came flooding back Tuesday as a handful of IndyCar Series drivers participated in a test session in preparation for next year’s return to the circuit.

“It’s kind of funny because I still remember where I braked, where I needed to turn, where I needed to lift and where I needed to be wide open,” said Montoya, who has worked for Team Penske for two seasons.

Montoya led 46 of 55 laps at Road America during his rookie season in the former CART Series but retired with a gearbox problem. Montoya won his one and only championship that season with owner Chip Ganassi, and he returned to the track one year later and led 11 laps before bowing out with a mechanical issue.

Next year’s race at Road America will be the first for the series since 2007. Practice and qualifying is scheduled June 24-25, and the race is set for June 26.

Twenty-five races were held at the road course from 1982-2007, some with CART and the defunct Champ Car Series, which was IndyCar’s competitor during the open-wheel split.

Much like forgetting poor finishes at Road America, Montoya has no bad feelings about his runner-up finish for the IndyCar title one month ago at Sonoma. Montoya was the series points leader for 15 races, but finished sixth at Sonoma. In the double-points finale, Scott Dixon won the championship in a tiebreaker situation, with three race wins to Montoya’s two.

“The championship is what it was,” said Montoya, who won his second Indianapolis 500 in May. “To be honest with you, I haven’t even thought about it. We had a good year, did everything what we needed to do, executed all year, and that was it.”

Montoya, who turned 40 on Sunday, was more interested in discussing Road America’s nuances, including its “insanely fast” corners and track flatness. He also noted how a couple thousand fans showed up for weekday test session.

Ten drivers and six IndyCar teams took part in the session, including seven drivers with experience at the track. A second test session, closed to the public, is set for Sept. 28.

“I think for the fans it’s exciting, because fans are passionate about IndyCar,” Montoya said. “And people are passionate about seeing the cars here, so the race should be fun.”

Dixon, a four-time IndyCar champion, has run two races at Road America. Dixon finished fourth with PacWest Racing in 2001, and wound up 17th in 2002.

The only thing that seemed familiar to the New Zealander about Road America was coming into pit lane, but said he’s looking forward to seeing what type of lap times will come with more downforce and faster cars.

“The corner speeds are definitely up, and they were pretty fast cars back then,” Dixon said. “I don’t know what the record is, 39 or something. We were running 43 or 44, so we’ve got a bit of a ways to go.”

Dixon was referring to the 1 minute, 39.87 seconds track lap record that Dario Franchitti put down during qualifying for the 2000 CART race at Road America.

Dixon said he was happy to be back in a race car, and was still basking in the joy of his championship. His fourth title goes along with championships in 2003, 2008 and 2013, all with Ganassi.

“I think that one was definitely a surprise and it feels great,” Dixon said. “I think we’ve lost championships before in `07 and `09 where we just didn’t get it right in the last race, so I think it was the perfect scenario for a finale.”

Lewis Hamilton receives Daytona 500 invitation from Bubba Wallace

Lewis Hamilton Bubba Wallace
Rudy Carezzevoli/Getty Images
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Lewis Hamilton is a fan of the new NASCAR Cup Series team formed by Denny Hamlin and Michael Jordan to field a car for Bubba Wallace.

Will the six-time Formula One champion also be a fan in person at a NASCAR race in the near future?

Wallace is hoping so.

After Hamilton tweeted his support Tuesday morning about the news of a Hamlin-Jordan-Wallace team making its debut with the 2021 season, Wallace responded with a sly invitation to the Daytona 500.

Much would need to be worked out, starting with how much garage and grandstand access would be afforded for a 2021 season opener that likely would occur during a still ongoing novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

But it would seem fitting given that Hamilton and Wallace have been two of the world’s most outspoken Black athletes about the quest for diversity and racial justice. Hamilton recently reaffirmed his commitment to activism after his donning a Breonna Taylor shirt sparked an FIA inquiry.

The idea of Hamilton attending the season opener already had legs, too. The Mercedes AMG Petronas F1 driver has expressed a desire to race the Daytona 500 after he has retired from Formula One.

He was a spectator (with racing legend Mario Andretti) at four-time champion Jeff Gordon’s final Cup race as a full-time in the 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway. In 2011, Hamilton swapped cars with three-time champion Tony Stewart at Watkins Glen International.

Having rubbed shoulders with other racing greats so often, it only would be fitting if Hamilton — who is one victory from tying Michael Schumacher’s career record and also could tie the F1 record with a seventh championship this season — spent some time with the greatest basketball player of all time.

Jeff Gordon was flanked by Mario Andretti and Lewis Hamilton before the 2015 Cup season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).