Team Penske's newest driver sampled his Chevrolet-powered Indy car for the first time on Nov. 25 during the first day of a two-day test at Sebring International Raceway.
SEBRING, Fla. - It didn't take Juan Pablo Montoya long to get the hang of an IZOD IndyCar Series car.
Team Penske's newest driver sampled his Chevrolet-powered Indy car for the first time on Nov. 25 during the first day of a two-day test at Sebring International Raceway. The goal was to get the former Indianapolis 500, Formula One and NASCAR race winner comfortable in the car he'll race in 2014.
"The biggest thing is that everything is still happening really fast, Montoya said. "It's OK, but as it happens so fast you end up making mistakes. With more time in the car, everything will slow down and it will be easier. It's happened to me before a few times, so I know that with time everything will be easier."
Still, Montoya looked at home as he adapted to driving an open-wheel car for the first time since he left Formula One for NASCAR in 2006. He turned 20 laps during the morning test session and ran times comparable to Will Power, who the team brought in to set up the car for his new teammate.
The initial results also impressed one of his new bosses - Penske Racing President Tim Cindric, who said the task for the 1999 CART champion will be learning the nuances of racing in the IndyCar Series.
"He was within a few tenths of Will in the first outing," Cindric said. "It was pretty impressive, really. We put him out on old tires just to learn where the gear shifts were and then put him back on Will's tire and he was within a couple tenths right out of the box. Right now it's happening pretty fast, he's probably a half a second off the guys who were here last week, but that's not too bad. Finding the last half second without losing his confidence will be the challenge."
Montoya returns to car for another day of testing at Sebring. While he gave himself a grade of 8 out of 10. He said his goal for the test is to gain knowledge that he can use to help the entire team get better.
"Do I want to win? Of course I want to win," he said. "Do I want to do the best I can. Yeah. How good is that going to be? I don't know. You have to beat Will, who is one of the fastest guys in the series. Helio has a ton of experience. I ran against him when I won the championship, and he's still doing it. For them to get in the car every day, this is there home, and I need to make this my home."
Interested observers abound
Among the interested observers of Montoya's test were four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. Both came to support their newest teammate even though neither had a role in the test plan.
"To have Will and Helio here to help says a lot," Cindric said. "The three of those guys will have something to contribute."
Castroneves, who raced against Montoya in CART, said the Colombian will be an asset to the team.
He's going to be an addition to the team, for sure; a he's going to be an addition. So I'm excited to see him here," he said. "I'm sure a lot of people are going to be excited to have him back and see him as well."
Juan Pablo Montoya: "It was good. The first run was really, really weird. We did a little bit of buildup on the (steering) wheel to supposedly give it more leverage and I think we overdid it a little bit. The position of the wheel was really different. With a Cup wheel, you try to put it as low as you can, but it's so big, the wheel is a lot higher, so getting comfortable is a little bit different. I'll tell you, the motor runs really good. When you get to gas, it has a ton of torque, that it's fun. Braking is hard. For what I've been running the last few years, the first few laps, it's like OK.
The initial bite is not bad. You get on brakes and there's a bit of lag while the brakes get hot. So it takes a while to get used to that, but you get used to it. We're miles away from where I think I need to be, but second and third run it was going through the gears, through the motions. It's just so different. It's going to take a little bit of time. Like Will says, when he understeers he can feel in the friggin' wheel that he's losing the front end of the car.
'I'm like, 'You don't know what sliding is. You should drive a Cup car. That's like 10 percent of what I'm used to.' It's fun. At the same time, you end up trying too hard. The couple of places I started good, I'm trying to roll through fast and killing the exits. I have to get to a point where I'm actually comfortable to understand and know the limits of the car."
"My biggest concern was the (steering) wheel and how heavy was it going to be. The good thing is we're here and it's not that bad yet. You can tell that we started on old scuff tires and the steering was really light, but then we put new tires on and I was like, 'Oh, OK that's what they mean.' It hasn't been that bad."
About New terminology: "Understeer, oversteer." (I heard you de-wedged the car?): "Yeah, and raised the trackbar (laughter). (And it's a transporter now): "Not a hauler. A transporter. I haven't got that one yet. The main goal is to run good and make Team Penske proud of having me here. It's a great opportunity that Roger (Penske) has given me and I want to make the most of it."
Did you have fun out there?: "Yeah, huge smile, ear-to-ear, every lap. It's funny because now, you look at data again, and it's not like when you want to look at data, you have to ask somebody for 20 minutes and they say 'hold on, I'm doing something. With this, you sit in the car and they show you and you see, Oh OK, I'm breaking like a (sissy) here and I'm not fast enough here. I think that's going to be the hardest thing. The fastest corner here is what we call Turn 3 and I go in and down the gears and I'm like, "No, not yet.' I'm not that far off, but I want to build to it. I want to go from here to there, and not go for it and waste three or four hours fixing the car and going at it again. I'm trying to build it slow."
Comparing IndyCar to Cup: "This place is a short track and it's not really high speed and it's like night and day. My Cup car my wheel was actually pretty heavy compared to most people. There's a lot more with the shifting. In a Cup car at a road course you have four gears and at a place like Sonoma, you may only use three, sometimes you use fourth. This thing is (makes gear sounds), you're up and down, up and down, up and down. A couple times I've been on the (rev) limiter and I try to shift and it doesn't shift. I've done the most today."
What appealed to you about INDYCAR: "What appealed to me is running for Roger and being in winning cars. To have the chance to work with Will and Helio and everyone at Penske Racing, it was a no brainer. (About doing sportscars): If Roger wants to I will."
About what he learned: "It's been a pretty windy day and kind of cool, so it's been actually really good. We worked a lot on the car and getting to where I'm comfortable with the car. It's like when we talked earlier, I'm trying to get the car to work for me. The biggest thing is that everything is still happening really fast. It's OK but as it's happens so fast you end up making mistakes. More time in the car and everything will slow down and it will be easier. That's kind of normal and it's happened to me before a few times, so I know that with time everything will be easier. I'm happy. You always want more, but what's amazing and great is the people at Team Penske. Their dedication and people are unbelievable. I'm honored to be here. Gil de Ferran told me that you will not believe when you work with these people and he wasn't kidding. Every person on this team cares. It's pretty unbelievable."
About standing starts: It's more about understanding the engine. It's hard with a turbo because if you spool up then you spin the tires, and if you don't spool up, you bog down and it's like, 'hello?' I went from spinning the tires to bogging down to spinning tires to bogging down. It's a matter of understanding. And we're on old tires, so there's no grip.
For a first day, I'd give myself an eight. I'm surprised the speed has been pretty good. Just a few too many mistakes. Like my engineer Ron said. Just a bit sloppy. It's understandable for a first day."
Will Power: Were you surprised Juan was up to speed so quickly? "No. You don't win races in Formula One and poles in Formula One and races in the CART Series on your first try if you're slow. I actually expected to learn from him. He's already brought some good ideas to the team even before he got in the car. Just from what I see from the data he has a very similar style to me. The way he brakes and everything. That should be good as far as our setups."
(So he'll be able to help right away...) "I think so. I know he's going to be bloody quick, and with quick teammates, that just raises the bar.
I didn't expect anything less." (Did you know him?): "I did not. I may have met him once." (So did you have a preconceived impression?) "To me, it's cool to be a teammate to a guy that was successful in Formula One. I've been wanting someone like that to go up against and see where I'm at.
To me it's great When I was younger he was one of the guys I looked at as the best when I was trying to get to that level. Even in CART, when you look at some of those qualifying laps at Detroit, he was a very fast solid good racer and driver." (How is Juan similar to you?): "The way we brake in general the way we drive. He doesn't have that many miles in the car, but from what I've seen, he drives the most similar to me. Briscoe kind of starting driving close, but Juan if you look at Turn 1, it's exactly the same."
Tim Cindric: "I think it's a really early days. With Juan, he's a quick learner, for sure. I think the difference is going to be getting him to understand what it takes to win. I think somebody like Will really understands not only how to go fast, but how to save fuel; when to save fuel; who your competitors are. Which ones you can trust, which ones you can't. I don't care who you are, it's going to take some time to learn those nuances.
One strength that Juan has is that he's mentally tough. He doesn't let the little things bother him much. I think he takes a pretty simple approach and I think that could pay off for him in the series. Helio has always been the model of consistency. For us a team, we have to figure out how to put a whole season together. There hasn't been a race in the last how many years that I didn't feel like we couldn't win. As long as you have that you have a good thing.
Trying to understand that championship mentality is something we failed the last four, five six years. We should have half the championships from that span, but we don't. Maybe Juan can bring us that kind of mentality. He's learned a lot from his transition from Formula One to NASCAR. He hasn't had a successful teammate and we're going to be able to give him a gauge."
"It depends on the driver. I really do. This guy has done it before and he knows he can be successful. It's going to be a little bit of a time. I know he's a good study. Before he came here, he watched a lot of video. He doesn't sit around and think he'll hop in the car and be fast. I think he'll be a lot like Will in that he will come to the race prepared. Will knows what happened the past few years, what he did, what the other guys did. Juan came here prepared and did his homework."
"I think this car is going to be a lot different from the CART car in a lot of ways. I think he realizes that, but it's been so long since he's been in a CART car that he's forgotten some of that. If you were to put him in an old CART car, he may have a difference opinion, but I think enough time has gone by that he's forgotten."
How quickly did he get up to speed? "He was within a few tenths of Will in the first outing. It was pretty impressive, really we put him out on old tires just to learn where the gear shifts were and then put him back on Will's tire and he was within a couple tenths right out of the box. Right now it's happening pretty fast, but the last half a second, he's probably a half a second off the guys who were here last week, but that's not too bad. Finding the last half second without losing his confidence will be the challenge."