By: Ashley McCubbin
When it comes to getting behind the wheel, Juan Pablo Montoya’s goal is simply focused one thing – winning. If it’s anything less, don’t expect the veteran to accept the offer.
It’s why he is taking his preparations for the Indianapolis 500 effort to the next level, participating in the Indianapolis Grand Prix to get extra reps in with the team.
“The road course is gonna be tough as hell, but it is what it is and we’ll deal with it,” he commented. “But for the 500, I’m just really excited. I really believe that we can work to get a car to compete for the win. If I didn’t believe I could go there and win, I wouldn’t be doing it. There’s no point. I mean, I’ve won it twice so to go there and just ride around, it’s the same reason – one of the reasons I left F1. If I didn’t have good options and to run mid-pack, I’d rather stay home.”
While not part of the original plans, Montoya kept pushing for Arrow McLaren SP to add that to his schedule, wanting to allow he and the team to experience live pit stops, safety cars, starts – basically, race mode together. As Montoya points out, the crew members for his entry although experienced at the track are not doing it on a weekly basis.
“So when we start the week of the 500, we’re just going there testing – we’re not trying to put all the team together,” he explained. “We’re not screwing up looking at the data; we’re all lined up and we understand the radio messages. The idea is to try to clear all the things that can go wrong in the 500, and do everything that we’re going to do wrong in the GP, so when we come to the 500 and we get a shot at the end of the day, we’re going to be able to do what needs to be done.”
Montoya has already got himself re-accumulated with an IndyCar, participating in a recent test at Laguna Seca. He admitted they chose probably the worst track to do so, with the degree of difficulty with lack of grip due to the wind and sand.
“Honestly, in the installation lap, doing two miles an hour, I felt I was gonna crash,” he admitted. “I’m like, ‘What the hell?’ We went through a bunch of aero program in the morning, and stuff, but you know after the lunch break, we – Craig and I – started working together and it’s been a lot of fun working with Craig, because he’s really open for ideas and he doesn’t want to impose anything. He really wants to gel together and do everything together.”
Looking back on the test, he admits being most surprised about his young teammate Pato O’Ward’s wheel input, almost questioning whether the sensor was broken.
“Craig was being very good at it about talking about what we need for the car and understanding what we need to change and which direction we need to go, and that’s what’s going to make very hard for the GP,” Montoya told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We really only get one shot at it so we need to understand we don’t want to have the whole two cars going one way and myself going that way in an event that is two days. But I need to make sure that when I get in the car, I’m not gonna go out there and just can’t even get up to speed because it’s gonna be doing whatever I don’t want it to do so that’s going to be a bit of a balance. We’re shooting the blind a little bit and hopefully we can get in the window and if we can get in the window, we should be pretty competitive.”
While apprehensive about the road course event, his belief for the 500 is strong as ever, knowing he and Craig Hampton will be able to get to where they need to be. He credits that to how open everybody has been about ideas and trying what they need to.
“It’s a lot more open and I really enjoy this because you really need to get feeling right,” he said. “Indeed, it’s all about what we say what our ass tell us you know when you go into the corner. If you lean on the car and the thing doesn’t feel right, most of the time when it doesn’t feel right, don’t try because if you try it when it doesn’t feel right, most of the time it’s going to bite you. That just comes from experience, so we’ll see.”
While Montoya has not got test laps on an oval yet in 2021, the team has with both O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist partaking in the recent session at Texas Motor Speedway.
“I think it went really well,” team president Taylor Kiel told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Like Juan said, we’re open to new ideas. We’ve gone to Texas for many years, but we still continue to try to turn over every stone and refine our package. A successful test is not so much on the time sheets, but what we were able to accomplish against our test goals and everything that we planned going into that, and we were able to tick all of those boxes.
“So for me, the test was a success in that regard. I think the pace was also good, and I think the hard work we put in to make sure that we can maximize a long stint car but also a qualifying car showed. So very happy with how that turned out and it proved that we’re on the right track and we’re going in the right direction.”
In going the right direction, Kiel feels they will be able to ensure all three competitors are feeling comfortable when the Indianapolis 500 rolls around.
“In the perfect world, we’ve got three robots and they all drive exactly the same and it makes the engineering job very easy, right? But that’s not the case, and that’s never been the reality,” he commented. “So what we try to do is take the blinders off and throw kind of traditional wisdom to the wind and say whatever it takes to be fast in three separate instances is what we’re going to do. We’ve got people, really smart people, so we’ve got the people in place and we’ve got the resources in place to be able to do that, thankfully.
“So we approach certainly the races and the tests as a team no doubt, but ultimately there’s no confinement to what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to maximize Juan’s Package. We’re trying to maximize Felix’s and we’re trying to maximize Pato’s. They’re not all the same so whatever it takes to do that is what we’re going to do.”