He’s baaaack: Juan Pablo Montoya has high hopes for NASCAR race at Michigan

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Juan Pablo Montoya racing in Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Michigan likely boils down to one of two things:

1) He has some unfinished business from his previous seven-year stint in NASCAR, or,

2) Old habits are hard to break.

Whatever the case, while Montoya has returned to a full-time open-wheel ride in IndyCar this season, he just can’t fully quit stock-car racing.

Especially when he thinks he has a chance to win in Sunday’s Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan International Speedway.

“Absolutely, our goal is to win the race,” Montoya said. “Michigan is a huge race for Roger (Penske) and for the manufacturers. It would be an honor for me to be able to do that for them.

“We tested the No.12 Ford several weeks ago at Nashville and it was really quick. I felt like I got up to speed in no time. That said, we realize that it’s going to be difficult. The Cup Series is always evolving so when you aren’t in the car every week you can get behind easily. But I have two teammates that are among the fastest drivers every race (Brad Keselowski and Joey Logano), so I know the speed will be there to contend.”

Sunday will be the first of two Sprint Cup races Montoya will compete in this season, the other being the Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis next month.

Montoya is enjoying the challenge of returning to IndyCar, currently seventh in the Verizon IndyCar Series standings, with three top-five finishes, including a season-best third-place showing last Saturday at Texas.

But don’t expect Montoya to make a full-time return to NASCAR anytime soon.

“For me it’s more of an opportunity to maybe win a race or two here,” Montoya said in a media session Friday at MIS. “This year we’ve got two really good shots. This is probably one of the best tracks for the Fords.

“They always excel here and have a car that can win, and the way Team Penske is running right now, if it clicks from the beginning, and we hope it does, we might have a shot at winning this.”

Montoya was twice in contention to win the Brickyard but ultimately came up short each time. In the past, he’s called failing to win there as one of the most frustrating defeats that continues to gnaw at him to this day.

“Going to the Brickyard is a place that I run really well,” Montoya said. “When we ran bad we were always in the top 10, so going there in a car like this you’re definitely looking at a shot at a win as well.”

Montoya hasn’t exactly had the greatest history at Michigan – with just three top-10 finishes in 14 starts – but he feels confident that Team Penske equipment will make up for his past shortcomings there, as well as serve as a tune-up for Indy.

“To be honest with you, with the way Team Penske is running here it’s a hell of a chance,” said Montoya, who will start 28th in Sunday’s race. “You see Joey’s (Logano) comments sometimes and he says it was a terrible day and he finished fifth or sixth, so from my history here I would have killed to have a car that would do that.

“Our goal here, I think, is we’ll take it as it comes this weekend, but the way really look at it is it’s really good preparation for the Brickyard.

“The way Team Penske is running right now, they look like every week they have a shot at winning, so if we do a good job here and we have a decent race we’ll easily get a top 10 and if I’m really comfortable in the car we could even look at a win.

“I think this track, with my background in open wheel, coming here is gonna play into my hands a little bit because it’s a really fast track. It’s a track you don’t brake, it’s a track where you’re really controlling the throttle and you do that a lot in Indy Car.

“Roger gave me the opportunity to come here and we want to make SKF (race sponsor) and the Ford group proud of what we can do.”

Added crew chief Greg Erwin, “Juan Montoya is a world-class driver. Any crew chief would want to work with a driver with that kind of experience. … It’s going to be a fun weekend. Obviously we aren’t worrying about points, so we are able to lay it on the line.”

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Lewis Hamilton ‘petrified’ of car failure throughout USGP

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Lewis Hamilton of Great Britain and Mercedes GP celebrates his win on the podium during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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Lewis Hamilton felt “petrified” of suffering a car failure during Sunday’s United States Grand Prix in Austin, Texas amid memories of his Malaysia heartbreak.

Hamilton’s hopes of winning a fourth Formula 1 championship in 2016 were dented in Malaysia earlier this month when his engine failed while leading the race by 20 seconds.

Hamilton arrived in Austin 33 points behind Mercedes teammate Nico Rosberg in the drivers’ championship, having not won a race since the end of July.

Hamilton scored pole on Saturday at the Circuit of The Americas before a good start in Sunday’s race saw him surge clear early on.

Despite coming under light pressure from Daniel Ricciardo at the beginning and Rosberg in the closing stages, Hamilton remained in control to pick up his fifth USGP victory.

“This one feels great. I feel super chilled right now,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“It’s not an ecstatic feeling; it’s more mellow and relieved the car made it.”

With the memory of his retirement in Malaysia still in his mind, Hamilton was wary of another issue on his car rearing its head in Austin.

“The whole race I was petrified the car wouldn’t make it. I was dreaded by the sound I heard in Malaysia,” Hamilton said.

“Lose power, or a gear, or gearbox or something. It was weighing on me the whole race. It’s the longest afternoon but we got the job done.”

Hamilton cut Rosberg’s lead in the drivers’ championship to 26 points, but would not be assured the title even if he won the remaining three races of the season. Rosberg can be assured of the title with two seconds places and a third.

However, Hamilton isn’t dwelling on the points permutations: “I just want my car to keep going! But I need to do the job. I can’t control what happens with these guys. This is a relatively easy feat. Staying ahead and winning races is my target.”

Brembo cites disc issue for Gutierrez’s USGP retirement

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 22: Esteban Gutierrez of Mexico driving the (21) Haas F1 Team Haas-Ferrari VF-16 Ferrari 059/5 turbo on track during final practice for the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 22, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)
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AUSTIN, Texas – Esteban Gutierrez felt a brake issue was the primary culprit for his retirement on Lap 17 from Sunday’s United States Grand Prix, and Brembo has confirmed this was likely a disc issue.

Brembo released a statement regarding the retirement:

“In relation to what happened to the driver Esteban Gutierrez of Haas F1 Team during the United States Formula One Grand Prix, Brembo regrets that the withdrawal of the driver at the end of lap 17 was caused by a possible issue connected to the braking system.

“After a first analysis of our technicians present at Austin, it would seem that in correspondence with the front left wheel a problem in the dragging area of the disc has been identified.

“It will be Brembo’s responsibility to carefully investigate, in collaboration with the team, the causes that led to the technical issue.”

Haas has had a number of brake-related issues this year, but team owner Gene Haas reiterated a commitment to Brembo over the weekend.

Gutierrez told NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race he thought for sure it was a brake failure.

“Yes, it was,” the Mexican said in the immediate aftermath. “We think one of the discs broke. Not what we wanted for a race weekend. Not easy to accept either. Difficult start of the weekend and it was not going to be easy. We went on. We did a great qualifying, optimizing what we had. We pushed to the maximum. We got into the top 10 the first few laps. Aggressive strategy. At some point lost the brakes. Fortunately didn’t run into the barrier (in Turn 11).

“It’s very disappointing but we have to continue focusing on the positives. I want to thank everyone for the enthusiasm and support all weekend. I’m sorry for all of you who were here to support us and ensure we are doing our best.”

Gutierrez’s teammate, Romain Grosjean, got a point on Haas F1’s home soil with 10th place.

A Brembo carbon brake. Photo courtesy Brembo
A Brembo carbon brake. Photo courtesy Brembo

Coincidentally, I guess, I caught up with Brembo F1 brake engineer Andrea Pellegrini earlier this weekend on Friday, who explained that Circuit of The Americas is a low-energy braking circuit, and only requires more braking capability than Silverstone, Spa, Suzuka and Interlagos.

He explained the initial temperature of the carbon brakes is about 400-450 degrees Celsius, with a peak temperature of over 1,000 degrees.

“You don’t want it too high to avoid the wear, and not too low, because it’s complicated. There’s initial bite and friction. Every disk has a special cooling dedicated to different circuits. Austin is a medium circuit in energy for the brakes,” he told NBC Sports.

A list of more information from Brembo is linked here.

United States GP Paddock Notebook – Sunday

during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.
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AUSTIN, Texas – A near perfect weekend from Circuit of The Americas featured not the most scintillating United States Grand Prix, but still packed enough moments from the race and the last few days to make it memorable.

A year after hailing his 2015 win in Austin “the best day of his life” and securing this third FIA Formula 1 World Championship, Lewis Hamilton was more relieved to have a clean, trouble-free race en route to his first race victory since July in Germany on Sunday.

Meanwhile, Nico Rosberg performed a decent bit of damage limitation to come second after a tougher weekend. Daniel Ricciardo matched his car number in a perhaps unlucky third, but still created a lot of smiles with his Aussie-Texan hybrid accent in various interviews throughout the weekend, and his getting Gerard Butler to do a “Red Bull Shoey” on the podium.

Here’s a roundup of today’s posts, features and analysis from Sunday at Circuit of The Americas:





Hamilton in “cool” mode

Lewis Hamilton was back to a cool, stealthy mode this weekend that he hasn’t been in for a while. We’ve written about it quite a bit this weekend but it felt as though he was the USGP favorite from the outset, and it would have taken a perfect performance to beat him. With an amazing pole lap on Saturday and a peerless drive on Sunday, Hamilton cruised to his 50th career win, and has entered the record books as only the third driver in F1 history to achieve that milestone.

Strategic chess match more than an outright thriller

I’ll have more on this in a column tomorrow looking back on the weekend as a whole, but last year’s USGP at COTA felt as though it was a race to save a weekend of frustration, given the onslaught of rain that hit Austin like a tidal wave. This year’s race was not nearly as good as last year’s; that said, it had its moments, and the upside of the weekend being so much better on the whole prior to the race itself was that it didn’t need the race to be a thriller.

All about the strategy and reacting to it

With both Mercedes drivers and Red Bull’s Max Verstappen starting on Pirelli’s soft tires, rather than supersofts as the rest of the top 11 drivers on the grid did, how the tire strategies played out over the race would prove pivotal to watch.

Indeed it was such that with Verstappen pitting early, it forced Mercedes to react. Rosberg’s move then onto mediums forced him to “play the long game,” but his race came back around courtesy of the Virtual Safety Car that cost Ricciardo later in the race.

There were other pit mistakes too, with Verstappen and Kimi Raikkonen’s races both ending shortly after bad stops. Verstappen pitted what seemed to be too early, then made into his box before resuming and having an engine issue a couple laps later. Raikkonen’s race ended after a wheel wasn’t secure, and he stopped at pit out.

Races where you have to follow the strategy closer don’t necessarily play to rave reviews on TV as much as daring passes too. But if you’re a more introspective fan or observer, these races have their place, and today was one of them.

Retirements/setbacks promote a number of surprise drivers into points

From fifth-placed Fernando Alonso through to 10th-placed Romain Grosjean, a number of drivers who started either lower in the top-10 to well outside it made the points.

Alonso, Carlos Sainz Jr., Felipe Massa, Sergio Perez, Jenson Button and Grosjean started 12th, 10th, ninth, 11th, 19th and 17th, respectively, and all made it into the points.

Granted, roughly four of those openings were created by retirements for Nico Hulkenberg, Kimi Raikkonen and Max Verstappen and an early delay for Valtteri Bottas. But nonetheless, it was cool to see a few somewhat surprising faces – at least from their qualifying positions – make it into the top-10.

Recapping the post-race penalties

Two were assessed:

  • Raikkonen’s Scuderia Ferrari outfit has been fined 5,000 Euros as his car was released in an unsafe condition just prior to his retirement. Per the FIA, the car was released before all mechanics had finished fitting all the wheels correctly. The fine is imposed since the car was not classified. After a reprimand for Sebastian Vettel on Friday, that’s two “oopsies” in the same weekend for the Scuderia.
  • Renault’s Kevin Magnussen got a five-second time penalty added for exceeding track limits to make a move on Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat for 11th place in the waning laps. That said, the position swap didn’t affect either in the grand scheme of things since it was outside the points. Neither Renault driver – Magnussen nor Jolyon Palmer – had a good weekend with the pressure on between them to see if either will stay alongside Hulkenberg next year.

Alonso’s forceful pass of Massa for sixth place at Turn 15 triggered no further action from the race stewards, although Massa was less than pleased and had a puncture.

Improved COTA crowd

Buoyed in large part by the Taylor Swift concert – Circuit of The Americas revealed a crowd number of 83,000 for it although estimates varied to run a bit higher or lower depending on who you talked to – the crowd felt up in a big way both on Saturday and then into race day on Sunday.

The number was then announced as 269,889 for the weekend on Sunday afternoon, and marks a COTA official attendance record.

While ordinarily I’m a bit skeptical of COTA attendance release numbers – sports car weekends here in the past have seen an allegedly disproportionate amount noted from the track versus what it’s felt like actually on the ground – there’s good reason to believe this high number is closer to the mark.

I checked out the line on Saturday afternoon from about 4 p.m. local time onwards and it was a bit crazy, but crazy good if I’m honest. Once the gates opened to get in line at 5:30, the line stretched from where I was standing outside the Esses at Turn 7, back to the Fly Emirates-backed spectator bridge just after corner exit at Turn 2, with more people coming across the bridge as the time went on. It figured that there’d be a bigger number of folks making the rounds here, and that was just it.

Recap of the remainder of the weekend festivities

Porsche Mobil 1 Supercup crowned its champion at Circuit of The Americas for the third year in a row, with the series running its only doubleheader round of the season.

Sven Mueller led fellow Porsche Junior Matteo Cairoli by two points (135-133) going into the weekend, but with Mueller finishing in second place and Cairoli retiring in the first race, it gave Mueller a near clinch of the title going into Sunday’s finale.

With eighth place in the finale on Sunday, Mueller has secured this year’s Porsche Supercup title, following Phillip Eng and Earl Bamber having clinched it the last two years. Mueller has also won the Porsche Carrera Cup Deutschland title this season.

I had a catch-up with Mueller prior to Sunday’s race, and a Q&A with him will follow on in the coming days.

Lest Mueller and Cairoli have been the only Porsche Juniors in the spotlight, the third member of the Porsche Junior team in Supercup, Mathieu Jaminet, had a dream weekend to end the season. Jaminet swept both races for his second and third wins of the season.

Of note, Americans Alec Udell and Will Hardeman impressed for the local Moorespeed team. Udell, the 2016 Pirelli World Challenge GT Cup class champion, finished 11th on Saturday and a sterling seventh today in his Supercup debut. Hardeman’s 11th place today was a good shout for him, and he had Bamber coaching him this weekend.

In total, the Porsche Juniors swept the 10-race season amongst themselves. Cairoli won four races to Mueller’s three, and now Jaminet’s three.

Masters Historic Racing also fielded a wealth of old F1 cars in two 10-lap races. Katsuaki Kubota (No. 12 Gunnar Nilsson John Player Lotus 78) and Charles Nearburg (No. 27 Alan Jones Leyland TAG Williams Fw07B) won the pair of races. Cars entered were run from 1971 (Tyrrell 002) through 1983 (Tyrrell 011 and RAM March).

VIDEO: Ricciardo forces shoey upon Gerard Butler, turns on Texan accent

AUSTIN, TX - OCTOBER 23:  Actor Gerard Butler does a shoey on the podium with Daniel Ricciardo of Australia and Red Bull Racing after Daniel finished third in the race during the United States Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit of The Americas on October 23, 2016 in Austin, United States.  (Photo by Clive Mason/Getty Images)
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Daniel Ricciardo may have been disappointed to lose second place in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix after a badly-timed Virtual Safety Car period, but that didn’t stop the Red Bull driver offering some entertainment on the podium.

Ricciardo made a rocket start to run second behind Mercedes’ Lewis Hamilton early on at the Circuit of The Americas, with championship leader Nico Rosberg struggling to keep up in third.

Mercedes rolled the dice with Rosberg’s strategy, only to get a free pit stop under VSC when Ricciardo’s temamate, Max Verstappen, suffered a gearbox failure.

Rosberg jumped up to second in the process, much to Ricciardo’s frustration.

Ricciardo eventually crossed the line third, marking his sixth podium finish in the last eight races and tightening his grip on P3 in the drivers’ championship.

The podium interviews were conducted by actor Gerard Butler, who had Ricciardo’s infamous ‘shoey’ forced upon him, only with Red Bull in place of champagne.

“Gerard told me he doesn’t drink alcohol, so we had to figure something out,” Ricciardo told NBCSN after the race.

“Then one of the boys threw Red Bull up. Much to his dismay, he did it.”

Ricciardo then turned on his Texan accent, something he had broken out intermittently over the COTA weekend after spending Wednesday working on an authentic local farm.

Ricciardo also broke it out when talking to NBCSN’s Will Buxton after the race, even quoting racing icon and star of Talladega Nights, Ricky Bobby.

“I’m not sure what to do with my hands! My friend Ricky Bobby said- oh that’s too much!” Ricciardo said, before returning to his usual speaking voice.

“Yeah the VSC was frustrating. I expressed some frustration. It’s a good rule in many respects, but it hurts when it has that on you.

“Nico gained about 10 seconds on us. That’s an eternity in racing terms. Especially as it’s a Mercedes.

“That made it a bit stationary at the end. Even if he caught me he would have made it interesting. Cool place, cool podium, cool anthem. I live for that stuff.

“We had Nico’s pace. That’s encouraging. We’ll do what we can in the next few. Another big bag of points. Just me and Seb [Vettel] out there but we gained a little on Ferrari.”

Ricciardo then offered yet more science on the shoey, believing that the Red Bull energy drink will have eased the taste of his sweaty race boot after a 56-lap run at COTA.

“I didn’t try it! I smelt it. It smelt pretty good. Red Bull has a strong flavor. It killed the bad stuff,” Ricciardo said.

“My foot wasn’t that sweaty. Gerard had a small coronary on the podium, but he recovered.”

Never change, Danny Ric.