INDIANAPOLIS — Juan Pablo Montoya is a world class race car driver. He’s won in INDYCAR, Formula One, NASCAR and IMSA. At Indy, he’s arguably one of the best to ever grace these hallowed grounds. He’s had a top six finish in all but one year. He’s won twice in six tries. He’s also won both times with two different teams. Can he make it 3-for-3 next Sunday?
Well, for him to do so, he first has to qualify his way in. Montoya, thinks that he can do so, but he says that this car is definitely more difficult to drive than ones in years past.
“Yeah, it was kind of expected to be honest,” Montoya said of his day on Tuesday after completing 63 laps with a best speed of 224.384 mph. “At the end of the race, we were actually pretty decent on lap time and everything, but it’s hard when you go into qualifying and you’ve done I think eight timed laps or something or 10 timed laps. We knew qualifying was going to be difficult and race was going to be difficult, but we did everything we needed to do with the pit stops, the fuel saving, work under pressure with the engineers.
“I mean, I think it was a really efficient weekend for the mechanics, as well. They didn’t have a lot of time to make all the changes.
“I’m really proud of everybody, Arrow McLaren, Speed. So it’s pretty good.
“I think our car, I don’t know, it’s weird because my reference is the old car before, all the halo and all this, and it feels pretty bad, but if you look at when I run with everybody, it seems pretty good.”
See, Montoya will be making just his second start in the series since 2017. The reason he hasn’t been back since was simple. He says Roger Penske wouldn’t let him.
Montoya, drove for Penske in IMSA and Penske isn’t dumb. He knows Montoya’s talents. Why would he let him come back to compete against him for the Indy 500? So, when Penske shut down his IMSA team this past offseason, it left Montoya free to look for something new.
“Honestly the only reason I came back is because I think they got the potential to give me a winning car, and RP didn’t let me run the last few years,’ said Montoya. “It’s the truth. He always — the last two years before this, I said I’m pretty sure he’s going to say no, but if you want to call, go ahead, and he called and it was like, nah, not happening.”
Zak Brown with Arrow McLaren SP called again and this time Montoya could accept. Part of the plan was to get Montoya acclimated with the team and this new car for the GP last weekend. They knew that they’d be facing a tall task, so they went in with low expectations.
Montoya struggled. He didn’t even crack the top 20. But, he says that was all worth it to be this good on the oval.
“Honestly last week was what we expected,” he said. “What do you expect, you haven’t been in the car three years. We did an afternoon in Laguna that is really no reference to this, and I got in the car and you try to do the best you can. Like if you look at my pace in the first practice I was only six-tenths of Pato and Felix. I felt pretty good after one session. The second session was a disaster; we made some changes, and I hated the car, couldn’t really be comfortable at all. Next you’re qualifying, next you’re racing. Warmup was pretty good, and we started the race with the same car, and it wouldn’t turn. We don’t understand why, and we kind of made some changes during the race, and at the end my pace was decent. But by then, who cares.
“But for me, as I said earlier, it’s really important because we pushed the guys to make a lot of changes. The car was always right, the car was always on time. We didn’t miss a beat. And I think that’s really important. The pit stops were good. Couldn’t hope for a lot more.
“It’s very easy to do pit stops when there’s no pressure, but in a race situation it makes it a little bit more interesting for everybody, including myself, so it was good.
“Honestly it made a huge difference. I got in the car today and I didn’t even think about it. That’s basically the reason of those painful days was today.”
Montoya, knows that with as much practice time as he’ll have at his disposal before the 105th Running that him being a veteran will pay dividends for the race itself.
“At the end of the day you look at how many young guys have won the 500 the last few years,” he said. “I think that answers the question. I mean, do they have a shot? For sure, no question. I think Pato and Herta and all those kids, they’ve got a lot of talent and everything. Felix, as well. At the end of the day you’ve got to run the 200 laps and see what happens at the end of it.
“First of all, you’ve got to make it to 200, you know? So we’ll see.”
Montoya said it would be really cool to win a third this year and noted that with this team winning in Texas, he knows that they’re capable of it.
“I think we’ve got a good shot at it,” he said. “I think it’s exciting. I think having Pato and Felix as teammates is really cool. I think everybody at Arrow McLaren has been doing a really nice job. It’s a great atmosphere to work with, and they have good cars. They won Texas. They really showed they have fast cars. Even when we unloaded today they looked really strong. I don’t know, we’ll see. It’s a long week ahead. There’s many ways you can screw it up, so try to avoid most of them.”