Juan Pablo Montoya looking forward to Indy 500 return

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In 2000, Juan Pablo Montoya put on one of the more dominant performances in Indianapolis 500 history, leading 167 of 200 laps en route to victory in his first – and only – run in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing.

But ask the sometimes brusque Colombian to reminisce about that time, and he’ll only show you that moving forward is his top priority.

“I don’t even think about that I won it, I don’t even look at it like that,” he said Thursday at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. “Why? [Because] you gotta focus on what you’ve gotta do today.

“I’m looking at videos of the race, of how people passed, of how people didn’t pass – what worked, what didn’t – and that’s it.”

The past is clearly the past with Montoya, who moved on to Formula One and then the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series before returning to IndyCar racing over the most recent off-season with Team Penske.

Montoya has not only had to mentally re-train himself to drive an open-wheel machine, but also train harder physically. So far, his work has yielded mixed results this Verizon IndyCar Series season. He finished fourth at Long Beach in a fine drive, but has finished 15th or worse in the other three races.

You figure that with more acclimation, more consistent results will follow down the road. Along with that, he’ll be likely to have understood just how far he can push this particular IndyCar, the Dallara DW12, to do what he wants.

“To get to the limit in NASCAR is a lot easier and then it becomes how well the car drives,” he said. “Here [in IndyCar], the limit is a lot further and knowing where the limit is, that’s a lot harder.

“You can push, you can push, you can push, and then you put two tires on and you gotta push again, and you gotta find more, find more, find more. That’s where experience pays off…

“…It’s hard to know where the limit is. You really don’t want to find out. Most of the time, when you find out, it’s already too late.”

And if there’s one place where you don’t want to go over that limit, it’s Indianapolis.

Montoya isn’t sure what to expect in Sunday’s 98th Running, where he’ll start on the inside of Row 4. As the fastest second-day qualifier last weekend, it would appear he has the pace to contend.

But in his mind, so do a lot of others; he figures that, including his own No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet, there were “probably 10 to 15 cars” that are legit contenders for the Borg-Warner Trophy.

It will take a perfect performance from all parties – driver, equipment, strategist, the pit crew – to win the day at Indy. And Montoya knows that as good as anyone.

“I think we’ve got to go out there and see how the car behaves,” he said. “You have to work on it through the day, and make sure you have a good balance, and make all the right calls, and minimize the mistakes.

“It always is [a process]. Like every race, it has its things you’ve gotta be careful with and things you can abuse and that’s it.”

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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