Top racers swap machines for a day

Juan Pablo Montoya, who jumped from an Indianapolis 500 win in 2000 to Formula One, negotiated the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in Jeff Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet Monte Carlo stock car today (Wednesday). Then Gordon, the four-time NASCAR Winston Cup champion, wound up Montoya's BMW.Williams in return

Top racers swap machines for a day

"When I first got here, I was like, 'Man, this is cool; I'm so excited - but I was nervous, too," Gordon said. "I had no idea what this experience was going to be like.

"Just getting in the car and driving around the track...that was it for me. Once I got in the car, I didn't think about the nerves, but they were definitely there before I went out."

Not surprisingly, the drivers performed well but both slid off-course briefly. Gordon turned in laps within 1.3s of Montoya's best warm-up lap on Wednesday morning (1m15.2s), while Montoya was clocked within 1.1s of Gordon's (1m38.8s).

"That last second or half-second is the hardest gap to close," Montoya said. "It was really fun to drive, though, especially through the high-speed corners. It moves around a lot, and you can really play with it. If it had better braking, it would go a lot quicker."

Gordon had just one slip - taking to the grass while correcting a slide out of the exit of Turn Eight - but he recovered quickly and got the car back on the asphalt. "These cars are really nice on pavement, but they aren't much good on grass," Gordon laughed. "My car would kick his car on grass."

Likewise, Montoya ran off course, mistiming his braking at the end of the main straight and using the run-off area before quickly getting back on track. "The only thing I really had to work on was how far you can brake and how deep," said Montoya.

"The first lap it felt like it really had a lot of grip and I could really push it. The second time I went through the same corner, it was like, 'whoa.' The car moved around a lot."

The event, dubbed "Tradin' Paint," was televised live and open to the public. Among those involved was Gordon's crew, which was allowed to inspect the F1 car before preparing the Winston Cup car for Montoya.

"Montoya was pretty impressed for the technology we have, for what the car does," a crew member said. "He said he enjoyed driving it because he could really toss it around more than his F1 car. You can slide it around. If the rear end starts to step out, you're not going to wreck. It's not like an F1 car or a CART car, where oversteer is such a horrible thing. He was pretty impressed."

It was the first time in the respective cars for both drivers. Gordon, who has tested IRL cars and lists an extensive open-wheel and kart road-racing background on his resume, let out a whoop as soon as he shut down the F1 car after his first trip at speed.

"I can't even begin to describe it," Gordon said. "Everything was the complete opposite for us to learn. Juan had to try to learn to brake at the 250-meter mark. I was taking it to 100 and realizing I could take it further before braking. I think this needs to be the first annual 'Tradin' Paint.' Let's do this again next year."

During a side-by-side parade lap, the two drivers playfully floored their cars down the main straight, drag racing into the first turn. With that, a few thousand fans, a national TV audience and two enthused racers, concluded the thrill of a lifetime.

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