Juan Pablo Montoya was 32nd on the speed chart last month during NTT INDYCAR SERIES oval testing at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, that coming on the heels of self-described struggles in much of last year’s two races at the Racing Capital of the World.
The 46-year-old Colombian also recently admitted he thought his career in this form of racing was over.
So why is the two-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge smiling so much as on-track action at IMS approaches? Because the Open Test showed Montoya that his No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet is ready for what lies ahead.
“I’m really in a good place, really happy with what we’ve got (for the 500),” the veteran driver said as the Open Test concluded. “Last year, I wasn’t ever comfortable. The only long run I did before the race was on Carb Day. Before that, I couldn’t, (and) I told (the team) I’m not doing this; I’m not doing this.”
Montoya finished this year’s Open Test with a long run, and it was to his liking.
As to why the car’s fastest lap of the test was the slowest among those participating, Montoya said turning heads in April isn’t important. He didn’t even make a final speed-maximizing lap as many of his competitors did. As is his custom, he simply didn’t show off as others did.
“It’s hard to see (strength) because everybody pulls back and gets in that draft and puts up a big number, (a fast) lap time, and I really don’t care,” he said. “I care about having a good race car, and that’s it. That’s all that matters.
“(Success) is running in traffic, (learning) how your car runs in traffic, what you need finding the balance between the clean air and the dirty air, and I think we did a really good job and were really patient with it.”
For the second year in a row, Montoya will compete in both May races at IMS – Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix and the “500” on Sunday, May 29 – alongside Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist. Montoya wants to show well in the former, but as always, his focus is on the latter.
Only 10 drivers in history have won three or more “500s,” and Montoya wants to be one of them. His first “500” win came as a rookie in 2000 with Chip Ganassi Racing, then he added a second victory in 2015 while driving for Team Penske.
Turning 47 in September, Montoya has more gray hair than ever than ever before, but his contemporaries know he is still capable of winning in the INDYCAR SERIES. In spite of the struggles he described in last year’s IMS events, he still finished ninth in the “500” to earn his fifth top-10 finish in six attempts. He has led nearly 20 percent of the laps in his career here.
Montoya is one of the most accomplished and versatile drivers of his generation, with wins in the INDYCAR SERIES (15), Formula One (seven) and NASCAR’s Cup Series (two). He was CART’s 1999 season champion and the champion in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship in 2019, and he has been on the winning team at the Rolex 24 At Daytona three times.
“You always know he’s going to be a bad-ass out there because he always is,” said Helio Castroneves, who will be bidding for his record-setting fifth Indy victory. “He keeps saying that his son is better than he is, but that’s a tough one for me. If he’s better than his dad, well, we’re going to see a superstar in the making.”
Montoya’s son, Sebastian, is a 17-year-old rookie in the Formula Regional European Championship, finishing eighth in each of the two races of the season-opening event April 23-24 at Monza. Father and son were DragonSpeed teammates in this year’s 12 Hours of Sebring sports car race, and Montoya predicts his son will be in the “500” by 2025 if he chooses this path.
To simplify Sebastian’s life, the family moved from Miami to Monaco. Montoya said he is getting back to a 2-handicap in golf and cycling to round into the cardiovascular shape needed to meet the demands of the “500.”
Bottom line: It’s good to be Juan Pablo Montoya, and he said having a good car at Indy will make his life even better.
“I’m happy, comfortable, and I’m in a really good place,” he said.
The GMR Grand Prix will be held Friday and Saturday, with the 85-lap race Saturday at 3 p.m. (ET). Official “500” practice begins Tuesday, May 17 with the 106th Running on Sunday, May 29. Both NTT INDYCAR SERIES races will air live on NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network.