Montoya: “I still have the passion to drive the hell out of it”

Photo: IndyCar

If you’re wondering about Juan Pablo Montoya’s passion and motivation to continue driving and his determination to get back to winning in the Verizon IndyCar Series, stop.

The driver of the No. 2 DeVilbiss Team Penske Chevrolet hasn’t had the best run of results lately but that’s not a detractor to his desire to be there.

If anything, it makes the two-time Indianapolis 500 champion and 1999 CART series champion hungrier to get back on top.

“Yeah, I still have the passion to drive the hell out of it,” Montoya told NBC Sports on Monday, as he looks ahead to series’ next two races in Toronto and Mid-Ohio.

“I’m as competitive as I’ve ever been. It’s just heartbreaking when things don’t go your way. It’s been interesting lately.”

The “interesting” Montoya refers to is that the fact the results don’t tell the full story of his races since the calendar ticked from May to June, when he went from third in points before the Indianapolis 500 – 82 back of Simon Pagenaud – to now 140 back and 11th in the standings after Iowa.

Montoya bounced back from his last-place result in the Indianapolis 500 with third at Detroit race one but even that result could have been better. Same for his seventh place at Road America and this past weekend, at Iowa, where in both cases he thought he had winning cars.

“Our street course package is strong. But the weakness for us has always been qualifying on the (Firestone) reds, because we never get the balance,” Montoya explained.

“At the same time, it’s super strong in the race on the red tires. OK, so you’re not great here, but it pays back on the race. Makes it tough.

“So you’re far enough back to start and that makes your day a little harder. Even though the potential is there to win. We could have won the race, and we could have had a 1-2-3-4 Penske finish in Detroit the first day. It was tough.”

Road America was much the same, Montoya noting he could have made the Firestone Fast Six, but again, noted how challenging the car was on reds.

“The first lap on blacks, next lap is lap that counts, then I qualified seventh (in his group, 14th overall), and the first session on reds, then I was three tenths up on Will. So I had a car to make the Fast Six, and race could have been very different.

“Everything that can go wrong, has gone wrong for us.”

Montoya said Illmor will need to go back and analyze what happened on Sunday in Iowa, when smoke appeared out of the right bank of the engine. After starting 11th, Montoya had made his way up to third place.

“It was disappointing because we were so fast,” he said. “For qualifying, we did a really bad job in practice to be honest as the 2 car. Our three qual sims were bad. We couldn’t tell what we needed for the car! We missed the aero balance by a ton. So I wasn’t even close to running wide open, and I was better in the race than in qualifying by myself! In traffic, I was more wide open than qualifying.”

Montoya isn’t a believer in tracks having an in for him even though he and Iowa Speedway, in IndyCar, have produced three DNFs in three starts.

“Man, you can’t believe, ‘Oh, I’m not good at this place.’ You just have to make it better,” he said.

“In a way, it was good we struggled in qualifying. It was a good wakeup call. So everything we needed to do was good. This is what we needed to do for the race. And at the end of (second) practice we were good. So I went to Tim Cindric, and I said, ‘I’ve got a really good race car.’

“I was third when we had the problem with the engine. And that at that point, we could have been higher. I was saving tires and saving time. We had a little bit too much understeer. We had a little too much front wing but it got better. OK you could do the same adjustment, to get it to where it needs to be. But I could do wide open.”

Montoya, who’s 40, and Josef Newgarden, who’s 25, have raced each other together a number of times. And for Newgarden’s sake, it’s good to have the admiration and respect of one of this generation’s most talented, ever drivers.

“I felt we’d be really strong. But I don’t know if we had a car for Josef,” Montoya said. “I would have liked to find out. We race each other clean. We have a lot of respect for each other.”

Montoya still wants to perform and he’ll look to get back on track starting with Toronto this weekend, where he is yet to score a top-5 since his return to the series. He was 18th and 19th in the unique same-day doubleheader in 2014, and seventh last year.

“It’s frustrating, but the good thing is that you go to the next week knowing you have a great car. You can’t take that for granted, and that’s what Team Penske gives you,” he said.

“That’s one of the things that’s amazing is you know you’ll have a great team. Between our team, our sponsors from Verizon to DeVilbiss again next week, to Hawk Performance, we still have the whole package.”

“When you don’t get the result, it still sucks because you want to perform.

“The day you don’t have pressure, you gotta stop racing. And I push myself really hard.”

AJ Foyt Racing promotes Benjamin Pedersen from Indy Lights to IndyCar for 2023 season

Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt
AJ Foyt Racing

Benjamin Pedersen is the first driver to land a promotion from Indy Lights into IndyCar for next season as AJ Foyt Racing confirmed Wednesday he’ll be part of its 2023 lineup.

Pedersen, a 23-year-old dual citizen of Denmark and the United States, spent last season running the full Indy Lights schedule for HMD Motorsports. Linus Lundqvist, his teammate, won the Lights title, and Pedersen finished fifth in the final standings. Pedersen earned his only win earlier this month when he led every lap from the pole at Portland.

Pedersen also ran four races for HMD in 2021 with back-to-back runner-up finishes in his debut. Pedersen landed on AJ Foyt Racing team president Larry Foyt’s radar through a “trusted colleague” and Pedersen spent most of last season shadowing the IndyCar team.

His promotion to IndyCar comes ahead of all four drivers who finished ahead of him in the Indy Lights standings, including champion Lundqvist.

“We are really looking forward to having Benjamin as part of the team,” Larry Foyt said. “His enthusiasm is infectious, and he is 100 percent committed to IndyCar, AJ Foyt Racing, and doing the best he can to win races.

“It’s been great to have him embedded with the team this past season, and everyone is excited to hit the ground running when testing begins. It is also great to have a multi-year program in place, which will help him and the team grow together.”

Foyt did not announce a car number for Pedersen. Kyle Kirkwood spent his rookie season driving AJ Foyt’s flagship No. 14 but Kirkwood is moving to Andretti Autosport. The team has not yet announced if Dalton Kellett will return for a fourth season, and a third car for Tatiana Calderon was pulled from competition after seven races because of sponsorship non-payment. Shutting down Calderon’s team removed the only semi-regular female driver from the IndyCar field.

Pedersen, however, was signed to an agreement Foyt said “spans multiple seasons as the team plans to develop the young rookie and is aligned to a longer-term plan for AJ Foyt Racing.”

Pedersen was born in Copenhagen but raised in Seattle and currently lives in Indianapolis. He said his time shadowing the IndyCar team has given him a jump on his rookie preparations.

“I’ve spent a lot of time this season with AJ Foyt Racing learning the ins and outs of making the jump to IndyCar and it’s been really nice to do that in conjunction with my Indy Lights season,” Pedersen said. “IndyCar has been my target goal since I started open wheel racing in 2016. The racing, atmosphere, fans, events, tracks, etc. are all awesome.”