2014 sees the return of JPM to IndyCar and the Indy 500.
Orlando, Fla. – Juan Pablo Montoya and 18 other drivers participated in an IndyCar Series media day in Orlando on Tuesday. For the drivers, they were coming off handful of pre-season tests in preparation for the new season, which leads off with a race through the streets of St. Petersburg on March 30.
Given Montoya’s background and high-profile, he grabbed the spotlight as he talked about his return to IndyCar and the challenges he faces. As usual, he didn’t dodge any questions and didn’t mince words.
His teammates on Team Penske are front-runners Will Power and Helio Castroneves, and he’s been working closely with them so far. He indicated he has a similar driving style to that of Castroneves, and the two have swapped notes and set-ups. Power has a different driving style, not to Montoya’s liking.
At this point, he says he’s learned a lot from his teammates with all of their experience but also believe he’s brought worthwhile suggestions to the team to make the cars better.
Reflecting on his NASCAR career, he commented, “When we had good cars, we did good. When we had bad cars, we did badly. I think as a team we threw a lot of races away.” While he believes his NASCAR days are behind him, he wouldn’t mind giving the Brickyard 400 another shot, if Team Penske offers such. “I think the Brickyard would be a good thing,” he stated. “I've been so close so many times it would be a good way of closing that chapter with a good win. I know Roger hasn't won there. If we could get the opportunity to do it, I think it would be pretty cool.”
His transition to NASCAR was a perplexing journey. “Where the hell am I?” he wondered at the outset. “The cars were very different, and there was a lot of movement.” He indicated you know the limits of a stock car and reach that point quickly while the IndyCar experience is different. “In IndyCar, you can't drive it hard enough, or at least I can't yet. I'm leaving a lot on the table. And for me now, the focus is IndyCar 100%, and I'm pumped about it. I feel like a complete rookie right now, so it's pretty cool.”
He’s continuing to search for the limits of the IndyCar and is relying upon data from his teammates to find that limit. Using a test at Phoenix as an example, he noted that Castroneves took turn one wide open but he was slow to do that. “Your brain says you are wide open but your body says, ‘Hell no, it’s not happening.’ It is hard to get comfortable. Three and four weren't so bad in Phoenix, but turns one and two were hard. With the high down-force, it's just a matter of learning how far you can go with the car.”
Asked to compare today’s IndyCar with those of old, Montoya said, “The biggest thing is braking. The braking is unbelievable, especially in the corners. You used to have a lot more power, but the initial acceleration is very similar. And the grip level of the cars is an eye-opener, to be honest.”
Even though he has returned, he didn’t think it would happen. “I was comfortable with what I was doing and everything,” he said. “But if I look back at everything I've done, the most fun and best racing I've done in my career, it's been in IndyCar. And this was the perfect time to do it. I felt like two years from now, (I) wouldn't be able to do it. Timing-wise, it was ideal. So we'll see.”
Getting up to speed came quickly for Montoya. “The speed was there right away. Once I pushed the car, the speed was there. The problem is, if you try to be too greedy too early, let's say we got to Sonoma and I tried really early to push really hard, throw the car off, you spend the rest of the day repairing the car, you don't learn anything. Running laps are very important at this point.”
Montoya recognizes that he has to walk before he can run. “It's going to take time to win,” he commented. “How much time, I don't know. I'm not expecting to go out the first race and win to be honest. I have to understand strategies and everything. If the team does a good job of that, it's good. There are a lot of things with saving fuel and there's a lot of strategy that goes into it, but I haven't experienced it.” Regarding pressure to excel, Montoya stated, “I put enough pressure on myself to perform and (I) do whatever it takes to get it done. I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else. For me, it's all about winning.”
According to Montoya, a good first year back in IndyCar would be, “Winning the Indy 500 and fighting for the championship.”
He doesn’t know how realistic his goals are but they are on his plate as the season is about to start.