One-on-One with Franck Montagny
by Mark Cipolloni

 February 2, 2006

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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 before.

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?

Franck Montagny
Mark Cipolloni

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 Champ Car?

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 faster.

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 though!

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 regulation.

Q. You said a Champ Car was more physical. Why, because it is heavier?

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 important thing.

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 racing?

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 grandstands?

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 car?

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 live?

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?

A.  If you want to know more about me, fans can check out http://www.fmontagny.com

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.

The author can be contacted at markc@autoracing1.com

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