Montoya Thrives In Soggy Jerez

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When Formula One driver Juan Pablo Montoya woke up early Wednesday morning in Jerez, Spain, he just wanted to go back to bed.

His second day back in an F1 car after a nearly three year absence was a wash-out.

With temperatures in the mid-60s, and constant rain predicted for the whole day Montoya was certain he would struggle at the back of the field all day.

But then something miraculous happened.

Montoya surprised everyone around him, including himself, by slipping through the 2.748 mile Jerez course in 1:34.81 (104.343 mph), less than half a second slower than Ferrari’s Barrichello.

"It has exceeded all my expectations really," Montoya said. "I got up this morning and it was raining heavily. I thought 'Oh My God, this is going to be a nightmare day' because the last time I raced in the wet, I was very slow. But I got out, pushed hard and I was on the pace and with experience I think I will be better."

The performance was a small personal victory for the 1999 CART FedEx Series champion, but a huge professional one for tire manufacturer Michelin, who comes into Formula One for the first time in 2001.

Only Benetton, Jaguar, and Williams are using Michelin tires this season, all of which are testing in Jerez. Five of the eight fastest times were on Michelins, and nearly all those cars posted 11th fastest or better of the 17 machines testing this week.

McLaren’s David Coulthard, who led Tuesday testing in Jerez was third fastest on Wednesday, circling the course at a top time of 1:34.85. Benetton driver Jenson Button, who was forced out of his Williams seat to make room for Montoya, was fourth fastest on the day at 1:34.94. Williams driver Ralf Schumacher was fifth fastest on the day.

New Sauber driver Nick Heidfeld was seventh fastest on Wednesday, just a shade slower than Jaguar’s Eddie Irvine.

"I liked the feeling of comparing the different types of tire today, and the Red Bull Sauber Petronas C19 is a wonderful car in wet conditions," Heidfeld said. "The drivability was fantastic. I certainly prefer driving in the dry, but one learns an awful lot in the rain."

Thursday is the final day of testing Jerez, and the forecast calls for slightly warmer but otherwise similarly wet conditions.

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