INDIANAPOLIS — Juan Pablo Montoya has never taken part in Rookie Orientation or a Veteran Refresher course before. This year, he’ll have to do so in his No. 86 Chevrolet. See, when Montoya was here as a rookie in 2000, he wasn’t in the country to do so. He was racing with CART in Japan. But, due to his past success in CART, they deemed that he had enough experience to just hit the ground running.
He’d show that the decision to allow him to skip the rookie test in 2000 was well worth it. Montoya, qualified second and led 167 laps en route to a dominating win. Unfortunately for us, Montoya went to F1 and we didn’t get to see him back here in an Indy Car until 2014. That time, he would be with Team Penske.
Even then, he didn’t have to do the veteran refresher due to him being a full season entrant. Montoya, finished fifth that year.
Then, he’d win again a year later to score two Indy 500 wins in three tries. He’d crash a year after that, then finish sixth in 2017.
That’s when Penske made some changes. They’d scale back their operation on the Indy Car side and start up an IMSA team. Both he and Helio Castroneves would shift over to the new IMSA program and an opportunity to come back to the Indy 500 was gone.
See, Penske would field a fourth car at Indy for Castroneves, but they didn’t want to expand to five cars. So, Montoya’s racing experience was left now with IMSA only.
But, that has since changed again. Penske shut down the IMSA program following last season and Montoya was left looking for new work. That brought him back to Indy again, this time with Arrow McLaren SP. Despite this being his first Indy appearance in four years, he says he had opportunities to come back since he left, it was just that he wasn’t allowed.
Zak Brown from McLaren admitted that he’s called Montoya the last few years to see if he’d want to race. Montoya confirmed that. It’s just that from 2018 through last November, he was under contract with Team Penske. He had to ask for permission from Penske to race for McLaren here. Penske, didn’t grant the permission to do so.
“This is the first opportunity I had to say yes,” Montoya said on Thursday. When asked who said “no” before, he said Penske.
He didn’t show any hard feelings, it was just that when Roger Penske calls and offers you a contract, you honor your contract. If he doesn’t want you racing for anyone else, you don’t race for anyone else.
Montoya, was back though on Thursday to take part in the Veteran Refresher. He had to complete two phases and become eligible for practice for the 105th Running of the Indianapolis 500. He completed one of the two and will finish the 15 laps at 215+ mph on Friday.