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Montoya makes Fast Six, hits first goal of INDYCAR GP weekend

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INDIANAPOLIS – It was like old times in the post-qualifying Firestone Fast Six press conference, because Juan Pablo Montoya was there cracking jokes and right on pace as if he wasn’t no longer part of the full-time fabric in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Montoya took the No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits to fifth place on the grid for Saturday’s INDYCAR Grand Prix, in what will be his first series start since last season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in September.

After two tests at Barber and Gateway to get acquainted with what is now the fifth car for Team Penske, Montoya is in one of the better positions for an extra Grand Prix entry in the race’s fourth year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road courses.

To hear him tell it though, fifth was even worse than he could have expected because he still made a lot of mistakes – and is trying to get them out of the way before the rest of the month and the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

“I ran whatever it is, the 68 flat in the second session, I made a couple mistakes, and I thought, ‘I got probably an (67) 80 or something in me, I’m going to give it a go,’ and instead of going faster made a couple mistakes went slower in the first lap, and in the second lap I really nailed the start of the lap and I nailed turn 12 and when I went to Turn 13 spun the tires and bad spun.

“But it’s okay, last time I qualified was September or something last year, so I feel pretty good. Our goal was to make the Fast Six, and we did, and to be honest, we had pace to be second fastest today no problem. I missed it by a tenth and a half, and I made a hundred mistakes in the lap.”

Montoya’s qualifying run came after his first time being able to run on Firestone’s red tires in practice. Per Firestone, the new alternate this weekend is a different compound with similar grip but more heat resistant. Previous to 2017, the first time anyone could run the reds would be in qualifying, not in the last practice session beforehand.

“I thought it was huge. Since I came to IndyCar, three, nearly four years ago, I told them they should do that,” he said. “It’s like, why. Especially you’re giving guys that have done it for a long time a huge advantage. New guys are always going to struggle to get to qualify because the difference in setup is massive. I got an idea this morning of what we needed out of the car, and I think it helps. Even though we screwed up in the first session.”

Montoya said while he wants to do well in this race, he isn’t worried about points or mistakes here. It’s a race situation dress rehearsal for the Indianapolis 500.

The weird thing for Montoya was that when he and Penske agreed to run this race, they didn’t realize the schedule would be so compressed with two practice sessions and a qualifying – an abnormality as part of this race’s two-ay event.

“I’m actually surprised I made it that far in qualifying if you think about it,” he said. “I was hoping — when they said we were going to run the road course, I remember last year you get the open test and you get two hours on Thursday and long sessions, I’m going to have time to build up, and then I looked at the schedule, and it’s two 25-minute sessions. It’s like, okay.

“But it was fun. I mean, you’ve really got to be in the game. I mean, it’s a really busy day. It’s tough because this morning, the track being so cold relative to now, it’s completely different. We’ll see. I think tomorrow if we hit it, we’ll be pretty competitive. If we miss it, then we miss it.

“For us, I mean, anything we do, the laps we do and pits that we do is going to be a bonus for the 500. I’ve got a really experienced group of guys but they haven’t done it in a while, so I think we get the pressure of people just to — I mean, let’s leave the screw-ups this week, know what I mean? That’s what really it’s all about, even myself leaving, I did that pit stop, we were having a bit of issues with the building and stuff, but it still was screwing up. It’s my responsibility.”

Montoya kept coming back to the word fun though. He’d been bantering with Helio Castroneves on the dais and recalling old times.

And the way his schedule works out, doing limited racing this year and being a dad is something he’s embracing. He flies to Europe for two months after the ‘500 because his son Sebastian is running in the European Championship.

“It’s fun because there’s no pressure. I don’t care about the points; know what I mean? I normally don’t really care too much about points anyway, but this time a little less,” he laughed.

‘Game-changing’ multi-year agreement will take INDYCAR, NBC Sports ‘to the next level’


NEW YORK – As the fourth Nor’easter in three weeks bore down on the Big Apple, it was tough to spot people that were clearly in a good mood.

But Jon Miller, president of programming for NBC Sports and NBCSN, was clearly in a good mood.

On Wednesday morning at 10 am ET, we all found out why: NBC will become the exclusive home of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500, starting in 2019.

The new three-year deal not only makes “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” part of the network’s “Championship Season” – its collection of high-profile championship events from May to July – but also reaffirms NBC’s status as the home of motorsports television in the United States.

That status is something Miller doesn’t take for granted.

“It’s important people know that storytelling is in our DNA, and motorsports lends itself very well to storytelling,” Miller said as he, INDYCAR CEO Mark Miles and driver James Hinchcliffe made a snowy trek to the New York Stock Exchange to promote the deal on CNBC’s “Squawk on the Street.”

“We’ve had great success with the second half of the entire NASCAR season, and then we’ve had half of the IndyCar package [since 2009] … But we never had the real meat of the series and that didn’t set anybody up for success.

“Having the entire package of IndyCar now – all 17 races, qualifying, practice, you name it – really sets IndyCar on a strong path and solidifies NBC’s position as the home of motorsports. I think it becomes a property much like the Premier League, the NHL, and even the Olympics and the Triple Crown. We have 100 percent of the media opportunity and we can put all those great assets behind it.”

With the storm no doubt keeping some traders home, the floor of the NYSE was relatively subdued. But that made it no less important to be at the heart of Wall Street. Miles and his team are pursuing a new title sponsor for the IndyCar Series to replace Verizon, which will fully focus its efforts in the series with the powerhouse Team Penske going forward in 2019.

The new deal – which includes 8 races per year on the NBC network (with the remaining races going to NBCSN), live streaming of all races, and a direct-to-consumer package with NBC Sports Gold – gave Miles plenty to push for any potential backers. As for Hinchcliffe, he held his own nicely in an interview that also explored IndyCar’s global ambitions, the impact of technology on the sport, and of course, his spin around the ballroom on “Dancing with the Stars.”

On the ride back to 30 Rock, Miles was confident that NBC can play a big role in attracting a sponsor that can help the series keep growing.

“With respect to our work in finding the best title sponsor, it’s really important – and this has not been talked about much – but we expect to work with hand in glove with NBC’s sales,” he explained. “We have the opportunity to create packages which are both broadcast sponsorship and series sponsorship, I think, in a way that doesn’t come along very often.

“Usually, the media deal and the sponsorship deal doesn’t align like this, so we’re really excited about the offering we’ll have and the approach to the market we can take.”

Should the partnership with NBC bear fruit on that front and others, it will only add to the upswing that the IndyCar Series has had in recent years.

Hinchcliffe has been a witness to that. He entered the series in 2011, when it was trying to find its footing after the sport’s reunification three years earlier. After 13 years of CART vs. the Indy Racing League, getting everything back under one roof was not a smooth process.

But fast-forward seven years, and things have changed for the better. TV ratings and digital viewers have gone up. Race scheduling has become more stable and enhanced with the return of traditional open-wheel markets. And this year’s debut of the universal aero kit aims to pump up the action on the track, while also giving the cars a cleaner, meaner look.

Now, with NBC all in, Hinchcliffe is bullish on his sport’s future.

“This is a game-changing thing for us,” he declared. “If you look at the last four or five years, we’ve seen a steady growth in pretty much every measureable metric that there is – in a time where, globally, motorsports is in a bit of a downturn.

“The fact that IndyCar was able to rally against a global dip in motorsports interest, attendance, sponsorship – it speaks volumes to what we have been doing and this is just gonna take us to that next level.”