For the first time in more than 20 years, Juan Pablo Montoya isn’t racing full-time. One of the greatest drivers of his generation is in a transition phase between a full-time seat in the Verizon IndyCar Series and a potential seat with Team Penske’s likely-if-not-officially-confirmed future sports car program.
But Montoya is still staying plenty race-sharp in a year where he’ll compete in a variety of machinery. He won the Race of Champions in January, tested the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at Sebring in February and was back in his natural habitat of a Team Penske Chevrolet IndyCar on Tuesday, in preparation for his month of May outing in the team’s fifth car for both IndyCar races at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Times don’t mean much for a test day but Montoya was immediately on pace in fourth yesterday at Barber Motorsports Park, working with Team Penske veteran Ron Ruzewski and engineer Raul Prados on the box for his No. 22 Chevrolet, per Trackside Online and IndyCar.com.
This was Montoya’s first day in an IndyCar since he finished third at the 2016 season finale, the GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma in September.
“I feel like I drove the car yesterday,” Montoya said, via an IndyCar release. “It’s kind of fun. I’ve been out of the car since September, but I feel fine. I have a new crew, new guys, new engineer. It’s working really well.”
The shift for Montoya this year comes after his first two seasons in F3000 in 1997 and 1998, the latter of which he won a championship and propelled him into CART in 1999 when he won that year’s title on a tiebreaker over Dario Franchitti. After another year with a few wins in 2000, notably his romp on debut at the Indianapolis 500, he was off to Formula 1 where he raced for five and a half years from 2001 through 2006. His abrupt F1 ending produced the start of his NASCAR career, which stretched from the end of 2006 through 2013 before coming back to IndyCar, where he had been full-time the last three years and probably should have won the 2015 title had he not lost that one on a tiebreaker to Scott Dixon.
Home life is the way forward for Montoya now, who’s overseeing son Sebastian’s burgeoning kart career of his own and racing when he wants to rather than when he has to. And given he’s already back on pace in his first day back in an IndyCar in six months, it should come as no surprise given his ability level.
Seeing the fun side of Montoya has been evident on social media; he and Tony Kanaan both posted a pair of Instagram stories last night as they chronicled their flight delays getting out of Birmingham and back to Florida in the wee hours. And yes, Montoya did make it home before sunrise.