TMS Media Relations | Apr 29, 2014
Juan Pablo Montoya has spent the last seven years competing at Texas Motor Speedway in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series car, but despite logging thousands of miles on the 1.5-mile oval it was like a new track to him during his most recent visit.
Montoya has moved back to open-wheel racing and he was part of the 18-driver Verizon IndyCar Series contingent that recently visited Texas Motor Speedway in preparation for the Firestone 600 on Saturday, June 7. Driving the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet for powerhouse Team Penske, Montoya continues to get reacquainted with the open-wheel variety where he excelled prior to his stint with Chip Ganassi Racing in NASCAR.
“There are weeks, like here for example, places that I have been in the Cup car before makes it harder,” said Montoya, who was a multiple race winner in Formula One as well as a former CART champion and Indy 500 winner. “It’s tough because it is completely different. The arcs are different. In the (Sprint) Cup car here especially in (Turns) 1 and 2, it’s right on the paint. The closer you are to the paint – especially in 1 and 2 past center – the better you are off the corner. I don’t want to try on this one because if I get it wrong it is going to hurt.”
The test also was a reminder of how blazing fast Indy cars are on high-banked ovals such as Texas Motor Speedway, where they are roughly 20 to 30 miles per hour faster than the Sprint Cup cars.
“It just felt very different, but it’s the grip level,” Montoya said. “You kind of get used to your mind saying, ‘This is good’ and then you drive an Indy car and then you go ‘Oh.’ If you have a little car and you put new tires on and you think it’s great and then all of a sudden you drive a Ferrari you go, ‘Oh, okay I get it.’ Mine still sucks.”
Through three races of the Verizon IndyCar Series, Montoya currently is 11th in the championship standings. He has one top-five finish – fourth on the streets of Long Beach – but had his struggles in the season opener in St. Petersburg, Fla., (15th) and this past Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala. (21st).
“I think the biggest thing is qualifying so far for me,” Montoya said. “Starting where we are starting at every week is making my life very, very, very hard. I’ve got to figure out qualifying.”
He has made progress each week in qualifying, starting 18th at St. Pete, 16th at Long Beach and eighth at Barber Motorsports Park. His day at Barber took a turn for the worse when he went off course midway through the race that brought out a caution.
“We were going through the esses, and I was right behind the No. 9 car (Scott Dixon),” Montoya said. “He had a big moment, and I lifted then ended up having a bigger moment myself. I went in and I kind of referenced and measured with the wet, and I did the same thing I was doing in wet. He lifted more than I expected and I had to lift a lot more and it started tail slapping. After that, something broke in the car…I don't know what happened."
Despite the slow start, Montoya is not concerned about anyone questioning if he can return to his previous open-wheel form at 38 years old and after being out of an Indy car since 2000.
“I don’t worry about the garage and people,” Montoya said. “(Team owner) Roger (Penske) is happy and Roger is committed and I’m committed. We want to make this work and as long as Roger and Verizon and all the sponsors are happy, I’m happy.
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