WEC waves farewell to Wurz, would welcome Montoya

As Alex Wurz raced into retirement with a podium in Bahrain, Juan Pablo Montoya made his LMP1 test debut. Charles Bradley was there to watch it all.

WEC waves farewell to Wurz, would welcome Montoya
#2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway
Podium: third place Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Toyota Racing
#2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway
#2 Toyota Racing Toyota TS040 Hybrid: Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway
Podium: third place Alexander Wurz, Stéphane Sarrazin, Mike Conway, Toyota Racing
Alexander Wurz, Toyota Racing
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Juan Pablo Montoya
Fritz Enzinger, Porsche Team LMP1 director, with Juan Pablo Montoya
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Juan Pablo Montoya
#17 Porsche Team Porsche 919 Hybrid: Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya
Juan Pablo Montoya

As one chapter closes, another one opens.

Sunday’s World Endurance Championship Awards gala in Bahrain on Sunday night was a truly dazzling affair, its beachside setting and all-welcoming policy boasted 1000 people – basically the entire paddock and a few more besides.

And while Mark Webber, Brendon Hartley and Timo Bernhard were crowned world champions, the true star of the evening was Alex Wurz. He bowed out of a high-achieving career in emotional style, including a video from Tom Kristensen featuring the stellar cast of the Race of Champions, a video featuring wife Julia and his kids, and then a eulogy from Webber (a fellow “big bastard”) on one of the sport’s all-round good guys.

Wurz clearly struggled to keep it all together: “The reception I had right from the drivers’ briefing in Bahrain, this moment has been very emotional… I’m biting hard to keep the tears back… Seeing my kids talk and being here with my dad, who went through my career with me, is very special.

“One thing I want to especially thank is the officials, the marshals, the stewards and all the people at the track – including the medical staff – because the volunteers make this sport, without them there would be no show; we wouldn’t be here. They give their lives up for us.

“Keep pushing! The WEC is a great championship, and I’m fully with you… You won’t get rid of me, and I’m sorry for that!”

His driving chapter closes, and so his next opens. Already president of the Grand Prix Drivers Association, and pushing hard with that, he recently turned down the opportunity to become a Formula 1 team principal with Manor.

How deep do his political ambitions run? Quite deep, I’d say. How about an FIA presidential bid following the Jean Todt era? I wouldn’t rule it out at some point down the line.

Montoya monsters into WEC paddock

It was great to see IndyCar star Juan Pablo Montoya behind the wheel of the title-winning Porsche 919 Hybrid in the WEC ‘rookie test’ on Sunday.

I’ve had the pleasure of watching JPM hustle Formula Vauxhall, F3, ITC (essentially a DTM car), F3000, F1, NASCAR, IndyCar and Daytona Prototypes in the flesh, so to see him in the world’s fastest sportscar was a treat.

As he says himself “I’m a guy who’s raced everything” – and while he was keen to press home the fact he’s very happy with life in IndyCar with Penske right now, it was great to see how relaxed and bubbly he was after driving the Porsche.

The test came about because he knew team lynchpins Fritz Enzinger and Andreas Seidl from his BMW-powered Williams F1 days.

“The team has got a lot of German to it,” he said before quickly clarifying: “No, that’s not in a bad way! It’s got a very international feel to it too!

"It’s so relaxed here, it’s really weird. Some things are black and white; some things are very mellow. It’s an interesting mixture.”

At this stage of his life, would Montoya consider a move back to Europe? He’s very settled in Miami, loves the simple lifestyle and great weather, but has a son who’s reaching that age where he probably needs international kart competition if he’s going to emulate his father’s career.

“How many race weekends you got in Europe?” he asked the WEC journos, and when told "four" replied: “I think I can deal with four weekends in Europe. Maybe!”

When then asked if he had any more testing planned, he answered: “Not that I’m aware of. With them, you never know…” That wasn't a straight "no".

Montoya learned the car on Porsche’s simulator in Weissach. Of course, he drove Bahrain, but revealed he did quite some runs at Barcelona too… So why would he do that if he wasn’t going to drive there?

Although he’s older than Webber, I can definitely see him racing for longer. And where better than a full factory Porsche team that offers him the chance to add Le Mans to the ‘triple crown’ of victories at Indy and Monaco?

As I wrote last week, it was a mighty trek for me from Miami to watch Webber win that title – but well worth it.

I was on the same flights home as Montoya, and the smile on his face makes you think he felt it was worth the journey too…

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