If he spent much of the 2014 IndyCar season blowing off the rust from years of NASCAR, Juan Pablo Montoya showed a little more of his swashbuckling temperament in 2015.
You only needed to watch the closing laps of the Indy 500 or him leading at Detroit in the wet to see a highly talented individual at his fierce yet composed best.
But most of the time, 40-year-old Montoya was in v4.0 mode – less drama, fewer fireworks, playing it smart, and building the big picture. And it came within a gnat’s of working for him.
How could JPM lose?
There are seemingly infinite ways to explain how he lost out. Certainly it’s too glib and easy to say it was with that risky maneuver on teammate Will Power at Sonoma. After all, JPM had barely put a wheel wrong all season in terms of errors. Yes, his came at a crucial juncture in the title fight, but as JPM himself remarked, “Every race counts, every race is important.”
Following the race, Montoya had strong words to say about the double-points system in play in the finale, and he’s right to point out that had the Indy 500 and Sonoma race not been blessed/cursed with double points, he’d have won the title. Equally, Scott Dixon is correct to remind us that had qualifying points been awarded for the Indy 500 as per usual (they were scratched following the emergency decision to make all cars qualify in race trim), he’d have taken the title far more comfortably than on a tie-break. He, after all, took pole at IMS, whereas Montoya started down in 15th.
The interesting aspect of the Dixon vs Montoya battle is that Scott was usually Chip Ganassi Racing’s pacesetter, whereas JPM would quite often be fourth fastest of the Team Penske quartet in qualifying. Yet he was near enough in speed to make things happen on race day.
Kings of the comeback
But there are few superlatives left unused when describing Dixon and Ganassi – they are kings of the comeback, great opportunists, reliably fast and never short of ideas to engineer their way out of a technical hole. Perhaps most crucially, Scott has finally shaken off the bad luck that dogged his championship campaigns 2009-’12.
Yet Dixon’s favorite tale of 2015 is based around the Iowa race. Montoya had suffered a suspension failure early on, but then a broken CV joint on the Ganassi car while running third gave the No. 9 crew boys some hard work mid-race. Dixon emerged from the garage 34 laps down but when Takuma Sato crashed with 40 laps to go, that was enough of a window to allow Dixon to go from 19th to 18th in the race results. One vital extra point.
“At the time, that race had seemed like a major missed opportunity,” recalled Dixon at season’s end. “With Juan crashing out early, that was our chance to have a real crack at him, and then we had that mechanical failure. So for that to now be the race where we look back and say, ‘That’s where we won it,’ because of that one extra point from Sato…
“Funny how things work out. The team’s hard work that night paid off more than a month later…”