The post-victory tour for Juan Pablo Montoya and Team Penske after their win in the 99th Indianapolis 500 is a long one, and a good one.
And for Roger Penske, “The Captain,” 2015 was a welcome return to ‘500 victory glory after a rare six-year hiatus.
We’d caught up with Montoya last month at the Chevrolet Champions’ Celebration in Sterling Heights, Mich., and really there’s not a ton more for the Colombian to add at this point. It followed from his likeness being revealed on the Borg-Warner Trophy earlier in December at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Upon receiving his Baby Borg trophy at the Automotive News World Congress dinner in Detroit on Wednesday night, Montoya told MotorSportsTalk, “It was really good. It was pretty exciting. Its Roger’s home place. It’s incredible to get the opportunity to relive the moment.”
Penske himself noted more a sense of relief after ending the win drought. Other than a seven-year run from 1972 to 1979 in-between the team’s first and second ‘500 win, Team Penske had never gone more than three years between wins in years they participated in the race (did not qualify in 1995, and did not participate 1996 through 2000).
The six-year run in-between the team’s 15th and 16th Indianapolis 500 wins, then, came after Simon Pagenaud fell out of contention late, as did Helio Castroneves, leaving Montoya and Will Power to stage an epic battle for the win in the Nos. 2 and 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolets.
“It was very relieving, especially after we left money on the table with Helio in 2014,” Penske told MotorSportsTalk in a phone interview. “We had some times where we were competitive and didn’t deliver. The fact we got it done this year was terrific.”
Penske described how the final laps played out from Castroneves’ pit box. It was a fascinating scenario where he actually was frustrated with himself in seeing how Castroneves’ race developed, but yet still was in the best situation possible of having two of his other three drivers duking it out.
“I was disappointed in myself, because we’d managed to take Helio out of the hunt, even though he had the same setup,” Penske said. “It’s always on pins and needles – one lap you’re leading, and one lap you lose by half a car length.
“But watching it, (Scott) Dixon was gonna be tough the way he ran the first laps of the race. With 8-10 (laps) to go, when I had two cars up there, I felt much better. Would they take each other out? That’s all things that you’re concerned about. But when you want to win, you throw friendships out the window.”
Penske praised Montoya’s save when he briefly got below the white line through Turn 2.
“He’s got very, very quick hands. He can anticipate it, from his Formula 1 days,” he said.
Looking back on it, Penske took what was admittedly a chance on Montoya, in bringing him back to the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2014 after an eight-year hiatus from open-wheel racing.
While Montoya’s road and street course cobwebs needed to be dusted off, he still damn near won his first ‘500 start in 14 years, and if it wasn’t for a speeding penalty he wouldn’t have fallen back to fifth. Penske, of course, watched as Castroneves got edged by Ryan Hunter-Reay in another thrilling finish.
“It’s funny because, I’ve only done (the race) three times. It’s not like it took me 15 tries,” Montoya admitted. “I got two wins in three times and a fifth place.”
“His first year was training time, and you saw what he was able to accomplish in 2015 and he’ll be a real force in 2016,” Penske said of JPM.
This presentation of the Baby Borg Warner saw both Penske and Montoya earn their personal keepsake 18 inch trophy sports a duplicate of Montoya’s sterling silver image displayed on the iconic Borg-Warner Trophy, which is valued at 3.5 million dollars which stands 5′ 4 3/4″ and weighs 110 pounds.
This was where Penske accepted his record-setting, unprecedented 16th BorgWarner Championship Team Owner’s Trophy. Penske’s 16 Indianapolis wins span five decades beginning with his first “500” win in 1972 with Mark Donohue.
“To integrate the presentation of the Borg-Warner Trophy to the driver and car owner is amazing,” Penske said. “This is huge for everyone in the industry. The notoriety you get.
“The fact it’s in Detroit, my hometown, and the fact we’re in the automotive business. Racing is a common thread through our businesses. It’s helped make our success. It shows the partnerships, integrity and execution, to have in a night like this.”