Juan Pablo Montoya

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Montoya returns to natural IndyCar habitat, back at Barber test

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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.

Penske confirms JPM for Indy GP; all but confirms sports car effort

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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Team Penske’s planned expansion into sports car racing, rumored for well over a year, is set to be formally confirmed later this year, Roger Penske said Saturday at St. Petersburg.

Additionally, one of the drivers who may be part of that program – Juan Pablo Montoya – has been confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix at Indianapolis in a fifth Team Penske car, ahead of the Indianapolis 500 where he’d already been announced.

“We’re looking at doing some sports car work… we’d like to put all the pieces together and hopefully will have something by mid-summer if we’re going to go for next year,” Penske told a small group of assembled reporters on Saturday.

“I don’t want to wait another year, to be honest with you. We’ve waited a year now. There’s a couple of options.”

“For Juan, I’ll run him in the G.P., and we want to get him a race with our mechanics before the ‘500. We’ll run him for both the Grand Prix and the ‘500.

“If we run a sports car program he’s on the top of the list of those to drive for us. That was part of the discussion. When we talked about wanting to run him this, when we talked about doing this, he’d be at the top of the list.”

For the fifth car at the ‘500 and the Grand Prix, Team Penske believes it will be a number of existing crew members already from the team in addition to possible extra members set to be hired for the upcoming sports car program.

Right now, Montoya is the only extra ‘500 car addition also confirmed to run at the IndyCar Grand Prix, with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing also working hard from a commercial standpoint to see Oriol Servia run the GP before the ‘500 as well.

Penske wouldn’t be pressed on the number of sports cars he’d run, but did say “it won’t be three.” He also said Helio Castroneves would be in the frame for a Penske sports car seat.

The likely if not formally confirmed Daytona Prototype international (DPi) platform would be a car in the top class of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship, the Prototype class. This new platform made its race debut at this year’s Rolex 24 at Daytona.

A couple key IMSA officials are on site in St. Petersburg today and were spotted at the Team Penske transporter area this afternoon.

Penske would love to do Le Mans, but until the DPi platform would be integrated into the regulations and be eligible to run at Le Mans – there are distinct powerplant and electronics differences between the manufacturer DPis in IMSA and the spec-LMP2 chassis in the FIA World Endurance Championship and Le Mans – a DPi is yet be eligible to do so.

“I wish Ganassi would loan me a couple cars,” he joked, in reference to Chip Ganassi’s four-car Ford Chip Ganassi Racing Ford GT program.

“I think (DPi) is great. It’s a good series and one we’re looking at. The thing is with Balance of Performance, you’ve got multiple chassis and engines, and it’s difficult to get it right. We did it once, had gear and rpm changes, and that makes it tough.”

IndyCar 2017 team preview: Team Penske

Pagenaud looks for a title encore. Photo: IndyCar
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MotorSportsTalk looks through the teams competing in the 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season. First up are the defending champions from Team Penske, which had a phenomenal 2016 season with 10 wins, 11 poles and a 1-2-3 in the championship, as Simon Pagenaud romped to his first title.

Drivers (Engineer, Strategist)

1-Simon Pagenaud (Ben Bretzman, Kyle Moyer)
2-Josef Newgarden (Brian Campe, Tim Cindric)
3-Helio Castroneves (Jonathan Diuguid, Roger Penske)
12-Will Power (David Faustino, Jon Bouslog)

Manufacturer/aero kit: Chevrolet

Sponsors: Menards, PPG, HPE (No. 1), Verizon, Hawk Performance, DeVilbiss, Discount Tire (No. 2), Hitachi, Shell, Rev Group (No. 3), Verizon (No. 12)

Power looks for a full season of consistency. Photo: IndyCar
Power looks for a full season of consistency. Photo: IndyCar

What went right in 2016: Almost everything, really. With 10 wins, 11 poles and a 1-2-3 points finish in Team Penske’s 50th season of competition, Penske was first in class by a significant margin.

What went wrong in 2016: By Penske standards, the team was not as competitive at Indianapolis. That will have to change this year. Juan Pablo Montoya, who finished eighth in points last year and would have been lower had it not been for a double points-aided podium finish in the season finale, was inconsistent over the season and Josef Newgarden will look to improve upon that.

Newgarden's Team Penske arrival is a key story line in 2017. Photo: IndyCar
Newgarden’s Team Penske arrival is a key story line in 2017. Photo: IndyCar

What’s changed for 2017: The Newgarden addition in the driver lineup and the crew swap between the Nos. 2 and 12 cars. Montoya continues in a fifth car for the Indianapolis 500, the first time Penske has expanded that far.

What they’ll look to accomplish in 2017: Keep at the same mantra of “effort equals results,” get all four drivers on the board winning-wise, regain the win at Indy and retain their championship belt. It seems hard to believe, but the last time Penske won back-to-back titles was in 2000 and 2001 with Gil de Ferran. Sam Hornish Jr. (2006), Will Power (2014) and Simon Pagenaud (2016) have won Penske titles since.

The consistent Castroneves looks for more. Photo: IndyCar
The consistent Castroneves looks for more. Photo: IndyCar

MST PREDICTIONS

Tony DiZinno: Penske won’t again win 10 races in 2017; the field is too deep for that. But I’d still expect them to win the championship with Will Power getting on the board for the second time in his career, and I believe all four of their drivers will win at least once this year, for a total of anywhere between six to eight triumphs. They won’t however, win this year’s Indianapolis 500… and I’ll get to who I think will in a later prediction.

Kyle Lavigne: The only way Team Penske’s 2016 season could have been better is if they won the Indy 500. And if Helio Castroneves doesn’t suffer damage to one of his wheel pods late in the race, it may have happened.

Team Penske’s driver lineup is again stacked from top to bottom. Simon Pagenaud and Will Power are proven champions while Helio Castroneves has won everything except a championship. And new addition Josef Newgarden will be nipping at their heels while Juan Pablo Montoya rejoins the group for the Indy 500. While winning 10 races again is a stretch, it’s hard to imagine a “down” year.

Pagenaud and Power seem most likely to challenge for a championship, though any of their full time competitors could do it. Expect the 2017 champion to again come from the Penske lineup.

Luke Smith: Penske enters 2017 as the team to beat, and I don’t see that changing this year. Weak spots are very hard to find, even more so thanks to the addition of Newgarden. I think he can be in the title mix this year, even if it is his first in the ‘big time’. I’ll stick my neck out and say it’ll be between him, Power and Pagenaud fighting for the title come Sonoma – and Helio will win the 500 for a fourth time.

Juan Pablo Montoya samples Risi Ferrari in Sebring IMSA test

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One of the best drivers of his generation, Juan Pablo Montoya’s recent run of sampling a diverse amount of machinery continues with his testing debut in the No. 62 Risi Competizione Ferrari 488 GTE at this week’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship test at Sebring International Raceway.

Initially reported by Sportscar365, Montoya received the guest drive opportunity from an old colleague of his when he raced F3000. Team manager Dave “Beaky” Sims planned to put Montoya in for a few laps this afternoon to give him his first proper running in a GTE-spec car.

Montoya, a race winner in Formula 1, IndyCar and NASCAR, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and past CART and F3000 champion prior to that, got into the low 2:00 range in his handful of laps before turning the car back to Toni Vilander, who will share the car for the March 18 race with Giancarlo Fisichella and James Calado. Times are unofficial because this is a series test.

Montoya’s race plans this year are thus far limited to the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in a fifth Team Penske IndyCar. He won the individual portion of the Race of Champions in Miami last month. He’s been linked to the rumored (by RACER.com and others), if not yet official, Penske Daytona Prototype international (DPi) effort.

A couple social posts from the Colombian’s run are below, including from Vilander, IMSA Radio pit reporter Shea Adam and IMSA timing & scoring provider Al Kamel Systems. More info from this week’s test will follow soon.

@Regrann from @imsa_racing – Juan Pablo Montoya turns a few laps in @risicomp's 488. – #regrann

A post shared by Risi Competizione (@risicomp) on

Josef Newgarden already fitting in quite nicely with Team Penske

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Josef Newgarden is like a boy with a new toy.

The newest addition to the Team Penske IndyCar lineup – he replaces Juan Pablo Montoya in the No. 2 Chevrolet – is acting like a kid in a candy store: he has arguably the best and winningest team in the sport, three of the best teammates, the best equipment and the best support personnel.

“Dude, it’s all cool, every day is cool with this group,” Newgarden said Wednesday during IndyCar Media Day at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“Every day there’s something cool that goes on. When I first went down there and got to meet the whole team and I got introduced to the shop, it was very overwhelming because most of the shop was there for the introduction, and they have 425-plus employees. So it’s just very overwhelming and kind of emotional just because of the magnitude of it.”

The biggest change from the 26-year-old Newgarden’s previous tenure with Ed Carpenter Racing to Team Penske is indeed the personnel and available resources. With those kinds of numbers comes great strength.

“Every day, they’re like, ‘Oh, no, we do it like this’ or ‘We’ll sort that out for you, we’ll get this done,’” Newgarden said. “It’s literally every day they’re doing something that I might need or was thinking of, and it just happens, and you’re like, wow, that is so cool the way this works out here.”

Like pretty much every other full-time driver on the Verizon IndyCar Series circuit, Newgarden, who earned his three IndyCar career wins over the last two seasons, has two goals for 2017: winning the series championship and the Indianapolis 500.

Given that the Hendersonville, Tenn., native, who just moved to Penske headquarters in Charlotte from Indianapolis, is racing for the team that has won the 500 the most – 16 times – Newgarden can’t wait for the month of May.

“Yeah, the 500 is going to be very special, but I’m already like feeling that every month and every day,” he said. “Like that just has never been a moment where it’s not been cool with what we do and how we do it.

“Yeah, I’m sure it’s going to be super special for the 500, but I don’t think I’m going to feel that until we get inside the gates in May.”

While Newgarden — who has defending series champion Simon Pagenaud and veterans Will Power and Helio Castroneves as both teammates and mentors — is the envy of many of his young peers in the IndyCar series, he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, namely, Ed Carpenter Racing, where he and his innate driving talent were able to flourish.

‘We had a really great 2016 season, and it’s going to be an interesting transition for me going to Team Penske now,” said Newgarden, who finished fourth in last season’s standings. “I think in some aspects, it’s a difficult move because I really enjoyed my time and I’m going to miss my time at ECR.

“I built a really strong foundation there with the people and with Ed, and even in the past with (former team owners) Sarah (Fisher) and Andy (O’Gara) and Wink (Hartman) and Libba (Hartman). It’s a tough transition, but at the same time, I’m excited about it because from what I’ve seen over the last four or five months at Team Penske, I think it’s going to be a really, really fun experience to try something new to work in a different environment, to learn a different environment, and then try and make the most of that.

“I’m very excited about 2017. I’m not sure how it’s going to pan out yet. I think it’s hard to predict, but I think we’re going to have a pretty good going.”

Given that he’s entering his sixth season in IndyCar and his first with the best team in the series, Newgarden knows what the expectations for him are.

“I’ve got no excuses,” he said of 2017. “I’ve been around quite a while. I’m not a rookie by any stretch. You know, I’ll be in the best equipment from what everyone considers, and I’ve got a good team.

“… But on the whole, I should be pretty much ready to rock and go. If I’m not getting the job done, then I’ll have to figure it out pretty quick. So I think there’s pressure there, yeah, which is okay. That’s how it works.”

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