It wound up a weekend of near victories for two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya at the Race of Champions in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
Returning as the “Champion of Champions” from when he won the 2017 individual competition in the mega-star event that pits international drivers from multiple racing disciplines against each other in identically prepared vehicles, Montoya teamed with fellow Team Penske driver Helio Castroneves to finish second in the team competition on Friday at King Fahad International Stadium. Today, Montoya finished runner-up again in the ROC Skills Challenge before being knocked out in the quarterfinals of the individual competition by nine-time 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Tom Kristensen, whom Montoya beat in the finale a year ago at Miami’s Marlins Park to collect the Champion of Champions crown.
Reigning Verizon IndyCar Series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske and 2012 series champ Ryan Hunter-Reay of Andretti Autosport each reached the quarterfinals of the individual competition as well before being eliminated. Hunter-Reay lost out to eventual champion and ex-Formula 1 driver David Coulthard while Newgarden crashed out in his heat with World Rallycross champion Johan Kristoffersen.
Newgarden and Hunter-Reay paired up Friday to form Team USA in the ROC Nations Cup contest, but they couldn’t advance from the competitive group competition. Montoya and Castroneves, Team Latin America, went all the way to the final before falling to Team Germany – consisting of World Endurance champion Timo Bernhard and DTM touring car champ Rene Rast – in a best-of-three shootout.
Rast beat Montoya in the first race before Castroneves topped Bernhard in the second heat. Rast then won the decisive race over Montoya to hand Team Germany its record eighth ROC Nations Cup title.
“The guys who win this event are the guys who adapt to any car,” said Montoya. “I thought I could beat Rene in the final, but in the end, he did a good job while I made some mistakes. And in those final races, mistakes go a long way.”
Montoya and Castroneves, the three-time Indy 500 champion, have moved full time to Team Penske’s sports car effort this year – though Castroneves will return to the Verizon IndyCar Series for the INDYCAR Grand Prix and Indianapolis 500 this May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Both enjoyed their second ROC experience.
“It’s been great to be here at the Race of Champions in Riyadh,” Castroneves said. “There’s been a great crowd and I really enjoy this format of racing. You have to drive on the limit but at the same time be very precise.
“When you see the other car on the track, you just want to go faster! So yes, we all want to win and put our names on the trophy, but the main thing was to put on a great show for the public. I messed up in the final heat, but well played to Team Germany.”
Hunter-Reay and Newgarden return to their full-time jobs as Verizon IndyCar Series drivers with the preseason open test at ISM Raceway outside Phoenix on Feb. 9-10. The first race of the 2018 season is the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 11 (12:30 p.m. ET. ABC and Advance Auto Parts INDYCAR Radio Network).
Watch a recap of the ROC weekend excitement here: