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Montoya, Penske fifth crew dust off cobwebs in INDYCAR GP

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INDIANAPOLIS – Starting fifth and finishing 10th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix meant Juan Pablo Montoya and the crew assembled for his No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet entry for Team Penske ticked a few of the key prep-for-the-rest-of-May items on the checklist.

Montoya wanted to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six, which he did despite not competing in a Verizon IndyCar Series race since last season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in September.

He wanted to make more mistakes here than the rest of the month, as he’s more focused on the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

And he wanted the crew, led by engineer Raul Prados and strategist Ron Ruzewski (Penske technical director) to get up to speed as a collective unit and if they were to have slow pit stops, have them here.

When points don’t matter but the pursuit of a third Indianapolis 500 victory is present, using the Grand Prix as a tune-up act was all that mattered to the generally matter-of-fact Montoya, who remains one of the best quotes in the series.

The 1999 CART champion and past winner in both Formula 1 and NASCAR’s day was undone more than anything by struggles with the Firestone red alternate tires. Montoya, who hailed them in qualifying, said they weren’t as good for his car in race conditions.

“It wasn’t grip really. It was, I think the tires cut to chords, at least two sets of reds did. They went too early,” Montoya told NBC Sports post-race.

“It’s sad because we had a great car. We were stuck behind Josef (Newgarden). I was quicker than him. I was biding my time. I wasn’t even pushing or spinning tires. But two out of three sets on reds I think ended up on chords.”

The odd tire situation for Montoya’s car – consider Firestone is almost never adjudged to have issues within IndyCar – stunted progress but again, with the result largely irrelevant as he’s not in the championship battle, it didn’t dampen his spirits.

It just provided a change from the morning warmup.

“We never expected it. Even this morning we had a good amount of understeer. It was so easy to drive,” he said. “When it pushed, we had good speed. But if I pushed too hard within the window without doing anything stupid, say maybe five laps before the end of run I’d lose two to three seconds a lap.

“We made a couple mistakes in the pit stops. Couldn’t get fuel in and lost five to six seconds. Even without that problem we would have finished pretty decent.

“For what we were looking for out of this deal, it was good. It was a good refresher. I’m looking forward to the rest of this month with the Fitzgerald Glider Kit guys and Team Penske.”

And considering he was 33rd and last in last year’s 500 – a bizarre first-to-worst title defense – Montoya has nowhere to go but up starting on Monday.

Hamilton hails ‘greatest day’ after USGP victory, Mercedes title win

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Lewis Hamilton made no secret of his jubilation after taking a giant step towards his fourth Formula 1 championship win with victory in Sunday’s United States Grand Prix that also saw Mercedes clinch the constructors’ title.

Hamilton recovered from an early pass by F1 title rival Sebastian Vettel to take his sixth victory on American soil, five of which have come at the Circuit of The Americas in Austin, to extend his lead to 66 points.

With just 75 left on offer this season, Hamilton needs just one top-five finish in the final three races to clinch his fourth world title, with the enormity of the victory not being lost on the Mercedes driver.

“Today has been amazing. It’s been the greatest day,” Hamilton told NBCSN after the race.

“I woke up a bit tired, felt the rain, then was like, ‘What the hell?’ But I didn’t mind. I won here in the rain in the past. Then it dried up, clear blue skies, amazing opening at the beginning of the GP.

“I lost first place into Turn 1. It was OK. That first section, we got through there, and it felt very reminiscent of 2012: ‘Game on. You have to save the tires’, and he wasn’t doing that. I kind of kept my cool.”

“I saw I got a good exit of Turn 1, this was the lap and it was. His tires were dropping off anyway.”

Hamilton’s victory saw Mercedes wrap up its fourth consecutive F1 constructors’ title with three races to spare, with the Briton having played a key part in each of its successes.

“I’m so proud of this team. Big congratulations to the guys, people don’t know the amount of work they do,” Hamilton said.

“It’s over 1,500 people in two factories, so much brainpower and a lot of people to manage to extract the best from each of those.

“To come into a new era of car and perform as we have. There’s been a newfound love within the team. Ferrari, we want to beat them, thrash them.

“So they put more hours of working in to do that. That’s for all their hard work.”