He’s back: Juan Pablo Montoya wins first IndyCar race in 14 years at Pocono (VIDEO)

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The comeback is complete.

After racing in Formula One from 2001-2006 and NASCAR from 2007-2013, former Indy 500 and CART champion Juan Pablo Montoya returned to IndyCar racing this season.

His peers believed that it would only be a matter of time before Montoya recaptured his old magic, and sure enough, the Colombian has done just that by winning today’s Pocono IndyCar 500 at Pocono Raceway – his first IndyCar victory in 14 years (Sept. 17, 2000, Gateway Motorsports Park, Madison, Ill.).

Among the first things Montoya did in Victory Lane was thank team owner Roger Penske for giving him the opportunity to compete again in IndyCar.

“I want to thank Roger for believing in me – after how many years out of open wheel, to come back, he believed I could do it,” Montoya told NBCSN’s Kelli Stavast. “And here we are. It’s awesome.”

After the first 158 laps ran under green (a new Verizon IndyCar Series record for a 500-mile race), Graham Rahal spun and made contact with the Turn 2 wall to bring out the first yellow of the day. Then on the restart at Lap 166, Montoya battled Team Penske teammate Will Power for the lead.

One lap later, the encounter led to a broken front wing endplate for Montoya. But he was able to get past Power with no visible decline in performance from his No. 2 PPG Automotive Finishes Chevrolet.

“Just a little more understeer,” Montoya said of how his car reacted after the incident. “I had to do it. It was one of those moves – I mean, you either do it or you don’t do it. That was the winning move, so I had to do it.”

Montoya gave up P1 in order to pit with 14 laps left, but when Josef Newgarden and Tony Kanaan couldn’t make their fuel strategies work in the final 10 laps – both pitted together on Lap 161 and did so again just before the restart to top off – Montoya returned to the front with four laps to go.

It was academic from there as Montoya went on to beat Penske teammate Helio Castroneves by 2.3 seconds. Andretti Autosport’s Carlos Munoz claimed the final spot on the podium, while Ryan Briscoe and Scott Dixon, both of Chip Ganassi Racing, finished fourth and fifth respectively.

As for Power, he once again ran afoul of Race Control on Lap 172 when he battled Castroneves down the front-stretch for position. Power appeared to block the Brazilian, and with 25 laps to go, Race Control black-flagged him and forced him to the pits for a drive-through penalty.

He ultimately finished 10th, enabling Castroneves to pull even with him atop the Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings. Prior to today’s race, Power had led Castroneves by 39 points.

“I don’t know what to say – another penalty, another drive-through, another really good opportunity lost,” said Power, who has been called multiple times for various on-track violations this year.

Castroneves effectively put his hands up when asked about Power’s penalty.

“Unfortunately, I’m not the one that makes the calls,” he said. “But I think we’re really pushing hard. We’re fighting for the championship. In the end, it’s not my call.”

He was more effusive, however, about Montoya’s victory.

“That guy is unbelievable – coming back after [14] years and winning a race,” he continued. “He did a great job. As soon as he signed [with Team Penske], I knew he would be an asset – and a headache – for us.”

VERIZON INDYCAR SERIES – POCONO INDYCAR 500
Official Results

Order of finish, starting position in parentheses, driver, team-engine, laps completed, reason out (if any):
1. (1) Juan Pablo Montoya, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
2. (7) Helio Castroneves, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
3. (3) Carlos Munoz, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
4. (10) Ryan Briscoe, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
5. (15) Scott Dixon, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
6. (11) Simon Pagenaud, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
7. (12) Mikhail Aleshin, Schmidt-Honda, 200, Running
8. (21) Josef Newgarden, SFHR-Honda, 200, Running
9. (5) Marco Andretti, Andretti-Honda, 200, Running
10. (2) Will Power, Penske-Chevy, 200, Running
11. (8) Tony Kanaan, Ganassi-Chevy, 200, Running
12. (6) James Hinchcliffe, Andretti-Honda, -1 lap
13. (13) Ed Carpenter, ECR-Chevy, 199, -1 lap
14. (16) Justin Wilson, Coyne-Honda, -1 lap
15. (19) Sebastian Saavedra, KV/AFS-Chevy, -1 lap
16. (18) Sebastien Bourdais, KVSH-Chevy, -1 lap
17. (17) Charlie Kimball, Ganassi-Chevy, -two laps
18. (9) Ryan Hunter-Reay, Andretti-Honda, Lap 181, Running
19. (14) Graham Rahal, Rahal-Honda, Lap 157, Contact
20. (20) Carlos Huertas, Coyne-Honda, Lap 89, Electrical
21. (4) Takuma Sato, Foyt-Honda, Lap 25, Electrical
22. (22) Jack Hawksworth, Herta-Honda, 0, Did Not Start

Race Statistics
Winners average speed: 202.402 mph
Time of Race: Two hours, 28 minutes, 13.1798 seconds
Margin of victory: 2.3403 seconds
Cautions: 1 for 6 laps
Lead changes: 16 among 5 drivers

Lap Leaders
Power 1 – 30
Montoya 31 – 32
Power 33 – 49
Kanaan 50 -58
Power 59 – 61
Montoya 62 – 64
Kanaan 65 – 87
Montoya 88 -94
Kanaan 95 – 117
Montoya 118 – 125
Bourdais 126
Kanaan 127 – 147
Power 148 – 166
Montoya 167 – 187
Newgarden 188 – 194
Kanaan 195 – 196
Montoya 197 – 200

Point Standings
Power 446
Castroneves 446
Pagenaud 402
Montoya 391
Hunter-Reay 388
Munoz 340
Andretti 325
Dixon 297
Briscoe 285
Bourdais 271

Button enjoys ‘natural’ F1 return in Monaco, but hasn’t missed driving

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Jenson Button felt his return to a Formula 1 car in practice for the Monaco Grand Prix was “natural”, but admitted he hasn’t missed driving since stepping away from the sport.

Button appeared to have made his final F1 start in Abu Dhabi last November after stepping back from his McLaren race seat for 2017, only to be drafted in for the Monaco Grand Prix following Fernando Alonso’s decision to enter the 101st Indianapolis 500.

Button passed on the opportunity to test the McLaren-Honda MCL32 car in Bahrain last month, making his run in FP1 on Thursday in Monaco his first taste of a new-style 2017 F1 car.

Nevertheless, the transition appeared seamless for Button, even though he has not driven an F1 car in seven months.

“As soon as I exited the pits, everything felt very natural,” Button said.

“The weirdest thing is when you’re behind a car or when you let a car past, because you look at it and it’s gigantic. Then you feel really uncomfortable because you think, maybe I am too close to the barriers.

“I’ve really enjoyed practice, both the long and short runs. FP2 was a bit of a struggle to really find my feet with the car. I’m braking so much later than what I’m used to here and carrying so much speed into the corners.

“Adjusting to that takes time, so with another day with the engineers and a look through the data, I’m confident that I can improve for Saturday.”

Button finished 14th in FP1 and 11th in FP2, lapping less than one-tenth of a second off the pace of teammate Stoffel Vandoorne in the afternoon, giving McLaren hope of its first points of the season.

Button remains coy about his chances, though, insisting there is still more pace to be found.

“I haven’t really thought about where I hope to finish. It’s a very mixed-up grid at the moment which I’m sure will all change again on Saturday,” Button said.

“The guys understand where I’m coming from. They know what they need to do to improve the car to suit me a little bit more and to give me a little bit more confidence. Hopefully we’ll see a step in performance on Saturday.”

Will this one-off return stir a desire to be back racing full-time for Button? Don’t count on it.

“It was funny when I did the install lap this morning, I had a little giggle to myself,” Button revealed.

“Have I missed it? No, but when you jump in the car, you definitely enjoy the moments that you have.”

Sainz refusing to get carried away with Toro Rosso’s Monaco pace

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Carlos Sainz Jr. is refusing to get carried away despite making a strong start to the Formula 1 weekend in Monaco as Toro Rosso got both of its cars inside the top five in second practice.

Toro Rosso currently sits fifth in the F1 constructors’ championship amid a close midfield battle, but appeared to pull clear of rivals Williams and Force India in Monaco on Thursday.

Sainz and teammate Daniil Kvyat both reached the top 10 in FP1 before sharing the lead for much of the early part of FP2 before the likes of Ferrari and Red Bull went quicker.

Kvyat ultimately finished the session fourth-fastest, 0.6 seconds off pace-setter Sebastian Vettel’s time, while Sainz followed in P5, but the Spaniard urged caution in the Toro Rosso ranks after the session.

“I think that we did what we needed to do on a Thursday in Monaco, building the speed up little by little and trying different configurations to give myself confidence with the car,” Sainz said.

“After today’s two practice sessions, it’s safe to say that we’re quite happy with everything. Obviously, from Thursday to Saturday a lot of things could change so we can’t let ourselves get carried away with today’s result.

“But it’s definitely a good starting point! I’m looking forward to the rest of the weekend.”

“Since our problems in Barcelona, where we had a number of updates, we’ve learned a little more on how to get a better balance with the car,” Toro Rosso technical chief James Key added.

“Both drivers seemed to be reasonably happy in FP1, so it was a case of fine-tuning the car a little bit for FP2. We ran a slightly different tire program to other teams, concentrating on our own work, car setup and understanding.

“During the afternoon session we made reasonable progress and, even if there are still some issues to resolve, the session went well.

“We will now be working hard overnight and tomorrow to look at the data and optimize the car as best we can.”

Stroll crashes out of Monaco FP2, seeking PlayStation gains

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Lance Stroll’s difficult start to life in Formula 1 continued on Thursday in Monaco when he crashed out of second practice following an error on entry to Casino Square.

Stroll, 18, is yet to score a point through his rookie F1 season, and suffered another setback in Monaco on Thursday when he shunted his Williams into the barrier with 35 minutes to go in FP2.

Stroll was unharmed, but the incident acted as the latest setback through what has been a baptism of fire for the young Canadian in F1 despite significant efforts to prepare for his rookie campaign through private testing.

“The track is great and I was really happy with the car, but then there was the crash at the end. I just basically centered in looking for the limit, got onto the dirt a little bit and lost the rear,” Stroll explained.

“It was a typical street circuit mistake. I got into learning the circuit pretty quickly and I was happy with the day until then. What is good here is the tire seems to be hanging on quite a bit, so we are able to do multiple push laps.

“In FP3 I am just going to build up my rhythm in that area, but I think I know pretty clearly in my head what I did wrong. I am going to look at the little areas I can improve on for Saturday, as I know we can do that and have a good day.”

Stroll’s pursuit of added lap time may be aided by an unusual influece: his experience of racing around Monaco on his PlayStation game.

“I think corner eight and the last corner are the two places I need to improve on,” Stroll said.

“But it really annoys me because every time I play the PlayStation game it has always been those two corners that I couldn’t get right, and in reality it is still those two corners!”

Hamilton puzzled by ‘night and day’ tire difference in Monaco practices

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Lewis Hamilton was left puzzled by his lack of pace in the second Formula 1 practice for the Monaco Grand Prix after feeling a “night and day” difference in his tires from morning to the afternoon on Thursday.

Hamilton posted the fastest time through FP1, but could not match F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel’s pace through second practice, finishing over 1.1 seconds off the pace in eighth place.

Hamilton felt a significant change in his tires between the sessions, and while he is unsure as to why, he is confident Mercedes can get to the bottom of the matter.

“We didn’t have the greatest day today. Practice one was actually really good and we were quickest, but then in second practice we just struggled to extract the grip from the tires and we were sliding around a lot,” Hamilton explained.

“I’m not sure why the tires weren’t working but the difference between the two sessions was night and day. We’ve got some work to do ahead of Saturday, that’s for sure, but I’m confident the team can work it out.

“Monaco is always amazing to drive, but this is definitely the best car I’ve driven around here. Ferrari are very quick again and Red Bull are also looking good this weekend.

“We’re looking forward to a real fight on Saturday.”