By Kate Guerra SEBRING, Fla. — The only people expected to attend Juan Pablo Montoya’s first IndyCar test with Team Penske was his new teammate, Will Power, and the officials and crew assigned to the day.
Then Helio Castroneves showed up, and four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears. Suddenly, Penske Racing president Tim Cindric was standing at Sebring International Raceway looking at a preview of his 2014 season.
“The cool thing for me is we didn’t ask Helio to come,” Cindric said. “He came on his own, and that tells me that he’s interested. Really, the three of them, I think they can learn from each other.”
Montoya took his first laps in an IndyCar in seven years on Nov. 25 at Sebring International Raceway in a one-car team test. The morning opened with Power shaking down the car for 10 laps before Montoya took his turn. The 38-year-old Colombian ran 20 laps in the morning session, and according to the team, was within a few tenths of a second from Power.
“You don’t win races in Formula One and poles in Formula One and races in the CART Series on your first try if you’re slow,” Power said. “I actually expected to learn from him. He’s already brought some good ideas to the team even before he got in the car. Just from what I see from the data he has a very similar style to me. The way he brakes and everything. That should be good as far as our setups.”
Montoya arrived at the track with his wife, Connie, and children along for the journey as well. He chatted with the team and attending media about his son always liking IndyCars better than anything else. His son recently won a kart race in a Homestead-Miami Speedway parking lot.
After Power took his laps, Montoya changed into a generic Team Penske racing suit and got a final fitting in the car. The car was rolled out, and he took a few initial laps before coming in to go over data with engineer Ron Ruzewski. He also had a discussion with Power, who wore a headset and provided a driver’s point of view.
“It was good,” said Montoya of his first session. “The first run was really, really weird. We did a little bit of buildup on the (steering) wheel to supposedly give it more leverage and I think we overdid it a little bit. The position of the wheel was really different.”
“The motor runs really good. When you get to gas, it has a ton of torque, that it’s fun. Braking is hard.”
Aside from the differences in the car, Montoya viewed the test as a way to grow accustomed to his new settings before the start of the 2014 season in late March at St. Petersburg.
“I have to get to a point where I’m actually comfortable to understand and know the limits of the car,” he said. “Going fast, I’m not worried about going fast. I’ll drive the hell out of it and that’s it. You have to smart about how you do it. That’s what it’s all about. Getting to understand the car and the people I’ll be working with.”
The afternoon was spent working on more comfort in the car, but included work on some finer details as well. For his last run in the car, Montoya practiced four standing starts near the exit of the pit lane.
“It’s been a pretty windy day, and actually kind of cool, so it’s been actually really good,” Montoya added after the final session. “[In the afternoon] we worked a lot on the car to get it where I’m comfortable with the car, trying to connect the car to do the work for me.
“The biggest thing is still, everything is happening really fast. It’s okay, but it happens so fast that you end up making too many mistakes.”
Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I know he’s going to be bloody quick, and with quick teammates, that just raises the bar. You just learn from each other. He has a lot of experience from F1, CART and even ovals from NASCAR. It was exactly what I expected him to do when he got in the car. I didn’t expect anything less.” (Did you have a preconceived impression of him?) “To me, it’s cool to be a teammate to a guy that was successful in Formula One. I’ve been wanting someone like that to go up against and see where I’m at. To me it’s great. When I was younger he was one of the guys I looked at as the best when I was trying to get to that level. Even in CART, when you look at some of those qualifying laps at Detroit, he was a very fast solid good racer and driver.”
Helio Castroneves (No. 3 Team Penske Chevrolet): “He felt really comfortable in the car. I wasn’t expecting anything different to be honest. He was really relaxed. He’s going to be an addition to the team, for sure, a he’s going to be an addition. So I’m excited to see him here. I’m sure a lot of people are going to be excited to have him back and see him as well.”
Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet): “(Are the expectations realistic for you): I think you should ask (Tim Cindric) that. Do I want to win? Of course I want to win. Do I want to do the best I can. Yeah. How good is that going to be? I don’t know. You have to beat Will, who is one of the fastest guys in the series. Helio has a ton of experience. I ran against him when I won the championship, and he’s still doing it. For them to get in the car every day it’s no big deal. This is their home, and I need to make this my home.”
Tim Cindric (President, Penske Racing): “It’s been so long since he’s been in an open-wheel car. We need to let him do whatever he wants to do and find out where he’s comfortable and what’s he’s not comfortable. Try to get him comfortable and some confidence at the end of the day. Then we’ll look at data overnight and let him drive it harder tomorrow.”