Juan Pablo Montoya has returned to victory lane in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Long Pond, Pa. – Juan Pablo Montoya made his Verizon IndyCar Series comeback complete with a compelling victory in the Pocono INDYCAR 500 fueled by Sunoco. Starting from the pole, Montoya was in contention throughout the 200 laps and made a dramatic pass for the lead on lap 165, out maneuvering teammate Will Power. The victor led 45 laps.
Owing to a rapid pace and a single caution flag, Montoya won the fastest 500-mile race in history – 202.402 miles per hour. The previous mark of 197.995 mph was set at Fontana in 2002 . On a picture-perfect day in the Pocono Mountains, a sizable number of spectators turned out, and drivers and fans alike hope the series will return in 2015. Track management had expressed concern when pre-race ticket sales were off from the 2013 edition.
Driving the blue PPG Team Penske Chevrolet, Montoya won for the first time flying the Penske colors and for his career, he chalked up his 12th win. Until now, his most recent victory came at Gateway (St. Louis) 14 years ago. And it was his third 500-mile victory.
Said the proud Colombian, “I thought it was a good race, and I thought I did a good job at the start. For some reason, I felt like a sitting duck when we went into turn 1 four-wide. Going down the backstretch, I changed the fuel mixture to save fuel. It was important to be on the right strategy and make the right decisions.”
Regarding the close call with Power 28 laps from the end, Montoya said, “Track position is everything and on that restart, that was the only chance I had to take it. It was fun. We had gone side-by-side and knowing we were teammates, I knew we would both be smart. When he lifted a little bit in turn 3, I got to him and I went for it, figuring, ‘I don’t care. I am not lifting.’ I ran wide open and got away from him.”
When the two cars touched, Montoya’s car lost his left front-end plate, but he said it did not affect his car’s handling. Addressing his comeback, Montoya added, “It has been a long road, longer than people realize. Driving open wheels is so different from what I have been doing for last few years, and it took time. I kept working on it and have stepped it up, if we want to win the championship.”
Montoya finished 2.3403 seconds ahead of teammate Helio Castroneves.
Said Castroneves, who scored his eighth top-10 of the season, “It was tough. Because of the incident we had in Houston, we decided to go with a different set-up from the others. But I don’t think I had the speed of the other guys. At the end, we just kept getting better and better. We were just waiting, and Roger (Penske) called a great strategy. Last year it was a fuel mileage race, but we didn’t want to do that this time. Second is great and I wanted to win as badly as anyone, but I didn’t have the speed that Juan Pablo (Montoya) had.”
He drove the Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet. For his strong showing, Castroneves moved into a tie for first place in points with teammate Power.
On the 165th lap, Power and Castroneves staged a breath-taking dual, to include blocking, and race officials assessed Power with a drive-through penalty, ending his shot at a win.
Regarding the bout, Castroneves stated, “That’s the beauty of Team Penske there are no team orders. We race hard.” The race was caution-free for the first 158 laps, which was a record for 500-mile races. Fellow Colombian Carlos Munoz took a close third place.
Said Munoz, “It was a strange race at the beginning as no one wanted to lead. Halfway through, I was able to pick up the pace even though it is so hard to pass here. It was a great finish for me and we gained double points.” Munoz drove the Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM Honda.
In victory lane, Colombians Montoya and Munoz were cheered loudly by a large contingent of fans from Colombia. Each driver waved the Colombian flag during the post-race ceremonies, which delighted their fans.
Montoya went across the track to greet his fans when the victory lane celebrations ended. “I wanted to thank them for coming,” Montoya said. Ryan Briscoe motored to fourth place ahead of 2013 winner Scott Dixon.
The second-five finishers were Simon Pagenaud, Mikhail Aleshin, Josef Newgarden, local ace Marco Andretti and Will Power. Power led 69 laps and even though the penalty caused him to lose ground, he roared back with a vengeance.
Speaking of his fifth penalty of season, he said, “I actually let him go and touched the brakes. So it was another penalty and another opportunity lost. It wasn’t a good day.”
Tony Kanaan fell to 11th after running a remarkable race. A late-race fuel stop ended his chance for victory. He led 78 of the 200 laps. Eighteen cars were running at the end.