Juan Pablo Montoya is now two races into his return to open-wheel racing. But to hear him tell it, the transition back remains anything but easy.
Montoya took this week’s IndyCar test at Texas Motor Speedway as a chance to get more acclimated with the Dallara DW12 on an oval. He made 14 starts at TMS in a NASCAR Sprint Cup stock car, but had never experienced the track in an open-wheel car.
Therein lies one of the toughest obstacles in his adjustment to the faster speeds of the IndyCars after seven years in stock cars.
“It was hard at the beginning. It’s still hard,” the Colombian said at TMS. “There are weeks, like here for example, places that I have been in the Cup car before makes it harder. Sebring was actually pretty simple because I kind of had the memory of the IndyCar and that was a long time ago, but that’s what I’ve done there always. You kind of have a reference.
“Where like here for example, you are used to lifting and braking and all that stuff and you can run fairly wide open. It’s hard. It makes it fun but it’s so much quicker.”
Montoya also noted that he was leaning on some of his past experience in Formula One to get him through the adjustment, but said that the physicality of driving an IndyCar was another challenge entirely.
“Being in F1 really helped me get back to [driving] an IndyCar because it relates more to an F1 than an IndyCar when I drove [in CART],” he said. “We’ve got carbon brakes, paddle shifting, tunnel downforce.
“Still, something really hard is how physical they are. To run a race in an IndyCar is like doing a 1,200-mile Cup race or something. It’s like, three times harder.”
Media and fan attention focused on a controversial run-in between Haiden Deegan and his Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing teammate Jordon Smith during Round 10 of the Monster Energy Supercross race at Detroit, after which the 250 East points’ Hunter Lawrence defends the young rider in the postrace news conference.
Deegan took the early lead in Heat 1 of the round, but the mood swiftly changed when he became embroiled in a spirited battle with teammate Smith.
On Lap 3, Smith caught Deegan with a fast pass through the whoops. Smith briefly held the lead heading into a bowl turn but Deegan had the inside line and threw a block pass. In the next few turns, the action heated up until Smith eventually ran into the back of Deegan’s Yamaha and crashed.
One of the highlights of the battle seemed to include a moment when Deegan waited on Smith in order to throw a second block pass, adding fuel to the controversy.
After his initial crash, Smith fell to seventh on the next lap. He would crash twice more during the event, ultimately finishing four laps off the pace in 20th.
The topic was inevitably part of the postrace news conference.
Smith had more trouble in the Last Chance Qualifier. He stalled his bike in heavy traffic, worked his way into a battle for fourth with the checkers in sight, but crashed a few yards shy of the finish line and was credited with seventh. Smith earned zero points and fell to sixth in the standings.
“I think he’s like fifth in points,” Deegan said. “He’s a little out of it. Beside that it was good, I don’t know. I wasn’t really paying attention.”
Deegan jokingly deflected an earlier question with the response that he wasn’t paying attention during the incident.
“He’s my teammate, but he’s a veteran, he’s been in this sport for a while,” Deegan said. “I was up there just battling. I want to win as much as everybody else. It doesn’t matter if it’s a heat race or a main; I just want to win. I was just trying to push that.”
But as Deegan struggled to find something meaningful to say, unsurprisingly for a 17-year-old rider who was not scheduled to run the full 250 schedule this year, it was the championship leader Lawrence who came to his defense.
“I just want to point something out, which kind of amazes me,” Lawrence said during the conference. “So many of the people on social media, where everyone puts their expertise in, are saying the racing back in the ’80s, the early 90s, when me were men. They’re always talking about how gnarly it was and then anytime a block pass or something happens now, everyone cries about it.
“That’s just a little bit interesting. Pick one. You want the gnarly block passes from 10 years ago and then you get it, everyone makes a big song and dance about it.”
Pressed further, Lawrence defended not only the pass but the decision-making process that gets employed lap after lap in a Supercross race.
“It’s easy to point the finger,” Lawrence said. “We’re out there making decisions in a split millisecond. People have all month to pay their phone bill and they still can’t do that on time.
“We’re making decisions at such a fast reaction [time with] adrenaline. … I’m not just saying it for me or Haiden. I speak for all the guys. No one is perfect and we’re under a microscope out there. The media is really quick to point a finger when someone makes a mistake.”
The media is required to hold athletes accountable for their actions. They are also required to tell the complete story.