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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.

F1 2017 driver review: Lance Stroll

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Team: Williams

Car No.: 18
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 1
Best Finish: P3 (Azerbaijan)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 40
Championship Position: 13th

Lance Stroll’s arrival in Formula 1 at the start of the 2017 was a far from smooth one despite a significant private testing program being undertaken in the months leading up to his grand prix debut.

Even with older hand Felipe Massa at Williams, Stroll looked uneasy behind the wheel of the FW40 car through the opening run of races as he failed to reach the checkered flag in any of his first three starts.

The Canadian was left deflated after his first decent effort in Bahrain was cut short after a clash with Carlos Sainz Jr., calling it his “rock bottom” moment – but things would turn around on home soil.

Stroll produced a stunning fight through the field to take an excellent P9 in Canada, proving his talent seen in Formula 3 the previous year and shushing many of his critics.

Better would follow two weeks later in Baku when Stroll became the youngest rookie in F1 history to score a podium, dodging a crazy race to finish third. It would have been second had he not lost a drag race against Valtteri Bottas to the line.

Stroll’s form then fluctuated greatly. He was sublime on occasion, the best examples being Monza, when he started a remarkable P2 on the grid and ended as the top midfielder in P7, or Mexico where he took a brilliant sixth.

But there were too many weekends he was a little anonymous. Sure, Williams didn’t have the best car this year, but perhaps a little better was expected from Stroll.

2018 will be an even bigger challenge as he looks to the lead the team when a new teammate arrives – and at only 19, it is a lot to handle. Nevertheless, there are positive signs to be found; you just need to look for them a little.

Season High: Taking a shock podium in Baku after dodging chaos in front.

Season Low: A poor opening two races in Australia and China.