Juan Pablo Montoya is officially back home.
After a seven-year stretch in NASCAR, the former Indianapolis 500 winner began his new life as an IndyCar Series driver with Team Penske today at Sebring International Raceway in a test session.
Following his morning laps in a Team Penske Chevrolet, Montoya confessed that his first run was “really, really weird” as he tried to acclimate himself to everything, from the placement of the steering wheel to the acceleration and braking of the open-wheel machine.
“When you get to gas, it has a ton of torque, that it’s fun,” Montoya explained to reporters at Sebring. “Braking is hard. For what I’ve been running the last few years, the first few laps, it’s like OK. The initial bite is not bad. You get on brakes and there’s a bit of lag while the brakes get hot. So it takes a while to get used to that, but you get used to it.
“We’re miles away from where I think I need to be, but second and third run, it was going through the gears, through the motions. It’s just so different. It’s going to take a little bit of time.”
Easing him back into the open-wheel mindset after seven years of driving stock cars was the top priority for the test today according to Penske Racing president Tim Cindric.
“We need to let him do whatever he wants to do and find out where he’s comfortable and what’s he’s not comfortable, try to get him comfortable and some confidence at the end of the day,” Cindric said.
But while there will be a learning curve for Montoya, he was nonetheless thrilled about his new opportunity.
“I still don’t believe it that I’m here, to be honest with you,” he said. “You look at it. I look at the car and everything – my name on the car. It’s really exciting.
“It’s nice because there’s been excitement of everybody that I’m coming back to open wheel. It is [exciting] for me as well. But let’s stop with the talk and actually get to drive the car. It’s fun.”
On hand for Montoya’s session are Will Power and Helio Castroneves, his new teammates. According to IndyCar.com, Power actually shook down the car this morning in a 10-lap run before handing it over to Montoya, who then logged 20 laps.
Per Team Penske, he quickly closed to within a few tenths off of Power, which didn’t surprise the Australian pilot.
“You don’t win races in Formula One and poles in Formula One and races in the CART Series on your first try if you’re slow,” said Power. “I actually expected to learn from him.
“He’s already brought some good ideas to the team even before he got in the car – just from what I see from the data, he has a very similar style to me, the way he brakes and everything. That should be good as far as our setups.”
It’s just Day One, but it would appear that Montoya is having a positive effect on the Penske camp so far.
Photo Credit: John Hendrick/INDYCAR