Montoya: “Racing the Indy 500 with Penske again is a no-brainer”

Two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya said he’d jump at the opportunity to race for Team Penske-Chevrolet at the Brickyard next May. 

Montoya: “Racing the Indy 500 with Penske again is a no-brainer”
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya tests the 2018 Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya tests the 2018 Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya tests the 2018 Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya with Firestone's chief engineer Cara Adams
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya testing the 2018 Chevrolet IndyCar
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske Chevrolet

Montoya’s five race record at IMS is 1st-5th-1st-DNF-6th, the last four all achieved in a Penske-Chevrolet, and although he was replaced by Josef Newgarden as the fulltimer in the #2 Penske this year, he ran a fifth entry for the team in the GP Indy and the 500.

The Colombian ace will be one of Penske’s fulltimers in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship for 2018, driving the all-new Acura ARX-05, and will race alongside Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud in an Oreca-Gibson at Petit Le Mans next month. However, despite this new chapter in his career, Montoya said he would definitely like to race for Roger Penske at Indianapolis next May.

“We haven’t had that discussion yet,” he told Motorsport.com, “but I told Roger that I would be more than happy to do it if they want me to – and I hope they do.

“They said they’d have to look at it and see what would happen. If they offer it then sure, I think it would be really fun and we could do well. I would love to do it.

“Penske has proven it can run five cars at Indy, so it’s about having the IMSA crews switch across. It’s a big effort, I understand that, but at least IMSA doesn’t have racing that month, so it is possible.”

Asked if, given his new ties with the HPD/Acura through sportscars, Penske would allow him in a Honda-powered car for the 500, Montoya giggled and said: “Ha! I don’t want to have that conversation.

“I gotta say, I’m really excited about the IMSA program. It’s going to be awesome and that car is good fun to drive – I really enjoy it, even testing. But of course an opportunity to race the Indy 500 with Penske is a no-brainer.”

Montoya was the official tester of the Chevrolet-powered 2018 aerokit-equipped car – his counterpart in the Honda car was Oriol Servia – and wrapped up the ‘streetcourse’ segment of IndyCar’s four official tests on Tuesday at Sebring. But he said the car’s performance at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, site of the first test, had been a real eye-opener compared with the cars he’s raced there between 2014 and 2017.

“Oh man, it was a big difference,” he said. “These cars are so much more predictable to drive, you can really feel what they’re doing.

“And the handling balance is totally different. Since I came back to IndyCar in 2014, the thing I noticed was all that weight at the back of the car. An open-wheel car should be a nice balanced racecar and having that weight at the back was terrible. Every time you had to use the brakes, or tried to balance it out, it felt like it was gonna freakin’ kill you. Not a feeling you look for…

“This new car, it felt how an open-wheel car should feel. More balance, more feedback, and you had to have quite gentle inputs. So yeah, I’d love the chance to race one again at Indy.”

Short oval improvements

Montoya, like Servia, is of the firm opinion that IndyCar needs to go to low downforce trim for the short ovals. Both drivers made this recommendation after trying several setups at Iowa Speedway, site of the third test for the 2018 car.

“We’ll see what downforce they decide to use on the short ovals,” he said. “But we tried quite a few and yeah, driving the low downforce one was fun. It was the best.

“It’s good to come onto the straights at that track and actually accelerate through the gears. That’s a huge plus, right? I mean with the current car, you come out onto the straight and the revs don’t even go up! I’m serious! Because of all the downforce sticking you down in the corners and all the drag on the straights, it’s like you only go up 5mph on the straights! That’s insane!”

Montoya’s 1999-2000 teammate at Chip Ganassi Racing, Jimmy Vasser, has always insisted it was not JPM’s road/streetcourse speed that impressed him, but his adaptation to the shorter ovals and the ability to “catch the slides and dance on the edge of disaster and get away with it”. Asked if the 2018 car had a similar feel to those cars on short ovals – and indeed, across IndyCar’s wide variety of tracks – Montoya said yes, but with one major caveat.

“If you look at just the handling, then yeah, it’s a lot closer to the Champ Cars from 1999 and 2000,” he said, “in terms of where you brake, how you turn in. At the end of the braking zone, because the car won’t stop as quick and it’s much easier to make mistakes, I think that’s a huge plus and that is like the old cars. And totally different from the last few cars.

“But the biggest difference now is the horsepower. And I think this talk about increasing it for the future is the right direction for IndyCar to go in.”

Montoya, known to like a loose car, said the 2018 car suited him well.

“It was fun because you’re sliding around a lot more,” he said. “I was doing long runs at Sebring and I still ended up the quickest guy in the morning session. I was like, ‘Really?!’

“I really had a blast driving this car. The steering load is still quite heavy, and you can really tell the difference compared with the LMP2 I’ve been driving. The kickback in the wheel is really quite big, but it’s fine. It was really fun.”

Montoya said the Firestone compounds would need changing a little for the lower downforce of the new car, as Cara Adams of Firestone described recently. But for the sake of IndyCar racing, he suggested the bigger priority should be for Firestone to make a bigger difference between the primary ‘black’ tires and the alternate ‘reds’ on the road and street courses.

“I think that’s one of the things Firestone will really have to work on – make that difference a lot bigger,” he said. “You want the primary tire to be half a second or a second slower but consistent. You want the reds to be crazy-quick but it’s softer to force people to not do a full stint.

“I think if you have a red tire that’s so different that it splits up your strategy – so you have to decide which stint you want to be the shorter stint with a lighter fuel load – that’s going to create interesting racing, more passing, and so on.”

 

 

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