In his return to IndyCar racing last year, Juan Pablo Montoya didn’t have as much success on the street courses as he would’ve hoped for. However, he’s starting this year off on the right note, scoring the victory in the season opener.
“It’s exciting,” he commented. “Last year was very disappointing. It was tough not only here but generally on the street courses. I’m a guy that always excelled at street courses everywhere I raced. To come here and have a year with really bad street course racing, it was pretty tough. I was never happy with the car.
“You know, with my engineers, we decided to go in a completely different way the than the other guys. It paid off. My pace on black tires was pretty, pretty good.”
Montoya’s success attributes to how much he is adapted to the cars going into this year, versus last year, as he knows the small things that are going to make a difference. Looking at what he learned, it paid off when it came to restarts.
“Last year going to the restarts, I was thinking, Don’t hit anything. Try to pass somebody, but I was behind the car and I didn’t have enough time to look for opportunities,” he said. “In these restarts, I knew how far I could go, brake, make the corner. You know what I mean? Everything just clicked. I was looking for the hole, always looking for the hole. I think that was a big plus. “
He also attributes to the success to how well they got the car driving for him over the off-season, allowing him to post solid, fast, consistent laps on the black compound.
The pieces came together the final run, though, when Montoya was able to get out of the pits ahead of Will Power, who had dominated the race.
“I think what I did really well was my out-lap on red tires,” he commented. “I was on it. I knew he was going to be struggling, so I had to take advantage of that. I think my out-lap was really fast. I think that helped.”
Montoya was able to open up a three-second gap, before backing off to save fuel so he could make it to the end of the race. Though as a result, that allowed Power to start cutting into the advantage, cutting it down eventually to three car lengths.
“I’m like, I know, I know he’s coming,” Montoya said. “I know if I push, I’m going to open the gap, but I am going to kill the tires, and the last 10 laps I’m going to get passed.”
With five laps to go, Power was able to make his move, diving to the inside of Montoya.
“He was still two car lengths behind,” Montoya said. “Every lap there, I was lifting, then braking. I just went there hard, braked pretty deep. He had nothing. His front tire was against my back tire. Pretty optimistic.
“But it was good. I made it pretty tight for him, you know. But we run pretty smart, so that was pretty cool.”
Montoya was able to hold off the charge, and as a result, grab the victory. The success for Montoya this early in the season means a lot, versus starting off struggling and having to earn points throughout to make up ground. It’s success that he attributes to the relationship that he has with his teammates, and how strong Team Penske is as a team.
“The relationship I have you notice with Will, with Simon, with Helio. It’s really good,” he shared. “We help each other. We push each other really hard. Honestly, every time we’re on the track, we’re trying to beat each other, even testing. We’re looking at each other’s data, video. The cool thing here at Team Penske is if somebody is quick somewhere, you can go ask them, What are you doing here? I aim at this, I look for this. So it makes it really easy. It makes it easier for you to go fast.”
Now going into the rest of the season, there are high hopes for success to happen across the board, and a possible championship for the Columbian.
“I felt on the ovals I was really good last year everywhere,” he commented. “Going to street courses was painful. Going to road courses, we were getting better, finding a few things. We made a lot of changes. If you went and looked at my setup against the other three cars, you would think I’m completely insane.
“But I won the race, so I’m not that crazy, I guess.”