Juan Pablo Montoya’s fifth place marks for nice Indy 500 return

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Much like AJ Allmendinger last year, Team Penske’s third car – in this case, the No. 2 Penske Motorsports entry driven by Juan Pablo Montoya – was a factor throughout much of the Indianapolis 500 even if the ultimate result didn’t match the form shown throughout the race.

JPM’s ‘500 return to the Brickyard for the first time since his 2000 win was pretty much going according to plan for the first 132 laps. Montoya, in the No. 2 Verizon Chevrolet, led three times for 16 laps as on each of the first four pit stop sequences, he was able to run several laps longer than his competitors after good fuel saving runs.

But his strategy was foiled when after his Lap 131 pit stop, his fourth of the day, he got called for a pit road speeding violation. It was an ignominious matching of something he did in the 2009 Brickyard 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, which he dominated but lost due to that call.

Sunday, Montoya admitted to making a mistake that cost him the time. Interestingly it was a pit stop that cost Allmendinger last year, when his seat belts came loose.

“Unfortunately I made a mistake on one of the pit stops when I was resetting the fuel. I pressed the wrong button,” Montoya said. “We got a penalty for that but we came back. I was proud of the way we fought.”

Montoya dropped back into the mid-teens thereafter but recovered to fifth after the final 51 laps featured five cautions for 21 laps, and a host of those in front of him self-destructed.

But come back he did, and fifth after his first Indianapolis 500 in 14 years was a decent result on its own.

Pure Penske material? Perhaps not, but a definite “make the most of what you got”-type result.

“I don’t think we had anything for (Ryan) Hunter-Reay or Helio (Castroneves),” he said. “It was cool to watch them swap the lead back and forth in the final laps. I had a good seat for it. We just had too much understeer in traffic.”

The result is Montoya’s second top-five finish in his full-season Verizon IndyCar Series return. After his 13th-place qualifying last Saturday (21 points) and ultimate 10th-place start for Sunday’s Indianapolis 500, JPM added 61 more to his name Sunday (30 for a standard fifth, doubled to 60, plus 1 for leading a lap) and is now seventh in the points.

Teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves are second and third.

F1 2017 driver review: Sergio Perez

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Sergio Perez

Team: Sahara Force India
Car No.: 11
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Spain)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 1
Points: 100
Championship Position: 7th

While failing to hit the podium as he did in both 2015 and 2016, Sergio Perez once again finished the year as Formula 1’s leading midfield team driver, but faced a greater fight from within Force India in the shape of Esteban Ocon.

Perez has long been knocking on the door of F1’s top teams should an opportunity come up, and 2017 saw him continue his solid if unspectacular form. The dominance of Mercedes, Red Bull and Ferrari meant any finish higher than seventh was impressive, something he managed to do on five occasions.

But there were some missed opportunities along the way, most significantly in Baku. Force India had been quick all weekend, with Perez charging to sixth on the grid, and when drama struck at the front, he and teammate Ocon were eyeing a podium finish as a minimum.

Contact between the two forced Perez to retire and prompted Ocon to pit for repairs, leaving the team without the top-three finish it targeted heading into the season. With Lance Stroll taking P3 for Williams and Daniel Ricciardo winning the race, a maiden victory for Force India was not out of the realm of imagination.

Perez and Ocon came to blows on a number of occasions, with the final straw coming in Spa when they twice touched on-track, prompting Force India to introduce team orders. Perez finished the year 13 points clear of Ocon in the final standings, meeting his own pre-season target of 100 points, yet the Frenchman had arguably made the bigger impression at Force India through his first full season in F1.

Force India remains the top underdog in F1 with Perez spearheading its charge, but it is difficult to see either taking the final step to becoming true contenders at the front of the field anytime soon, as solid as their displays have been.

Season High: P4 in Spain after retirements for the ‘big three’.

Season Low: Losing a sure-fire podium, if not a win, in Baku after contact with Ocon.