After being a test driver for the Renault F1
team and playing an instrumental role in developing their
car into a championship winner, the highly touted Frenchman
Franck Montagny has abandoned his F1 dream and has set his
sights on a career in the Champ Car World Series.
After dominating in F3000, two years as a test
driver with no promise of a race seat with Renault, Montagny
longed for the day when he could again go wheel-to-wheel on race
day. He's a race car driver, a very quick one at that, so
to spend anymore time pounding the pavement as a test driver
wasn't very palatable. It was time for a change and
Montagny could not help but notice how well fellow Frenchman
Sebastien Bourdais was doing in Champ Car across the pond.
The first step was to test a Champ Car and he
did just that last week in Sebring with PKV Racing and Montagny
certainly did not disappoint, turning a fast 50.9 sec. lap on
his very first morning, which floored the entire team because he
had never set foot in a Champ Car nor seen the Sebring track
I caught up with Montagny after his test
to get his impression of how it went.
Cipolloni: During your initial
laps in a Champ Car, what was your immediate impression compared
to an F1 car?
Montagny: Everybody told
me that the Sebring circuit was very bumpy and that a Champ
Car was really heavy and more stuff like that Öso I just
took it easy and did some laps to get a better feeling of
the car and the track Öbut my first impression was a very
heavy brake pedalÖI was braking with my right foot. I
changed after two runs and started to do it with my left
foot and it was lot better. But it was new for me with
this kind of car (3 pedals).
Q. Did your impression change the more you drove the
A. Not too much. I tried different things
and I probably overdrove the car at times. F1
and Champ Cars are similar but you donít drive both cars the
same way. My feeling of the car was better at the end
of the two days, but I still was using some F1 reflexes and
I will be better and faster the next time I will be in the
carÖif there is a next time. As you know, the first
time you do anything you need to learn to adapt.
Q. You say you need to adapt but you were
immediately fast in a Champ Car. How did you do it? Is it
that easy or is Franck Montagny THAT good?
A. I feel itís not too hard to get used to any
car but that doesn't mean itís easyÖI like this kind of
challenge and I had only 2 days to impress everybody.
I tried to give my best effort and I believe I did a good
job with PKV. It was only the first test, I can be
Q. Did you drive a detuned V10 this year for Renault and
how did the power output of the Champ Car compare?
A. A Champ Car engine is more or less like an
F1 engine, but the track, the tires and the weight of the
car are different so it is very difficult to compare.
Q. After F1's paddle shifters, what was it like
shifting gears again with your right-hand? Did it take a bit
of time to get in the rhythm again?
A. Ask the guy from Cosworth. I have to
thank him because I did a couple of over revs. I have
not driven with a gear stick for a long time so. It
was not a big problem, but I have to work on my downshifts
so I have less over revs. I just need a bit of time to
get back in the rhythm and it will be OK. Iím
not worried about that. I did get blisters on my hand
As I am listening to Franck say he wasn't back
into the rhythm of downshifting again I wonder how fast he will
be next time given how fast he was last week - the fastest a PKV
Lola has ever gone around Sebring we believe.
Q. Did you like being back on
slick tires again?
A. Yes itís good to get back on the slick tires but the
grip is poor compared to the F1 tires which are much softer and
much more advanced after years of a tire war Önot the same
Q. You said a Champ Car was more physical. Why, because it is
A. Itís more physical because the track is not very
smooth so you move all the time in the car and all your body is
working. An F1 car is more demanding on the neck and back,
but I think you must be stronger for the Champ Car than for the
F1. Anyway I did not have any problems and thatís the most
Q. NASCAR, IRL and Champ Car have become a 'spec' series that
puts an emphasis on driver skill and team preparation? That
seems to be an American trend. Is that the best way to go
A. Best way or not, this is the best championship that I
know. F1 is great, but itís great because the media makes it
great. There is not much fun watching an F1 race. OK, so a
certain driver has the best car, the fastest one, but is that really
important? I want to be back racing. It would be nice
before the race not knowing where I will finish.
American racing has kept the spirit of real racing and thatís
good. Also I strongly believe that Champ Car is going be
very competitive very soon and this is where I want to be.
Q. Obviously you made quite an impression as that may be the
fastest a PKV car ever went around Sebring. What will it take to
land a Champ Car ride in 2006 and how do you rate your chances?
A. I am the wrong person to ask. You
must ask the people from PKV about that . Iím confident, but
certainly there are other drivers who tested to PKV who are
probably confident too.
Q. Champ Car is making a comeback. Is now a good time to get
in to ride that wave?
A. I was the test and development driver in F1 for
Renault for 2 years. We won the championship, so yes
itís a good time to get in this championship just before the new
car. 2006 would be a good year to learn the tracks and
then be in a position to go for the championship in 2007 when
everyone will be on equal footing with the new car.
Q. Champ Car has interest in becoming more international, and
is looking at races in South Africa, Japan, China and Brazil?
Does the international aspect interest you?
A. Iím French and I have been living in Portugal,
Spain, and England for the past 7 years, so I do not care where
we will be racing. I want to race thatís all. If
itís better for the championship and for the fans to go to those
counties I will be happy to go there.
Q. With Sebastien and Nelson Philippe (all French) in
the series, can Champ Car run a successful race in France? How
about a Champ Car race on the Bugatti circuit at LeMans - could
that work? How about Paul Ricard if they erected temporary
A. It would be great to race in France. My
family lives 20 minutes from Paul Ricard, Sebís family is
in LeMans, so a race in France sounds good to me!
Q. Who is the toughest competitor you have faced in a race
A. I would have to say it was Ricardo Zonta.
Q. Obviously fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais has made
quite a name for himself in Champ Car. How much have you talked
to him about Champ Car?
A. I have not talked to Sebastien a lot, but
enough to know this is where I want to race.
Q. If you do come to the USA, where do you think you will
A. Many of my friends and contacts are living
around Miami, so I believe I will start there.
Q. Tell us a little about Franck Montagny, what do you do for
fun? Favorite driver? Favorite Food? Favorite circuit?
Apart from that, anything with an
engine is good for me. I have no favorite driver, but I
like [Valentino] Rossi for his lifestyle. I like Italian
food and I do not have a favorite circuit, but I like the
circuit where I last won. Jerez I believe is one of the
best, but I never actually raced there, just tested.
Q. What one word best describes Franck Montagny?
A. My engineer used to call me Funtime Francky,
OK that's two words.
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