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.”

Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and Formula One embrace the United States

Verstappen Perez United States
Fatih Aktas/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Last week, Red Bull Racing revealed its new car, the RB19, and a new relationship with Ford Motor Co. in an event in New York City complete with drivers Max Verstappen, Sergio Perez and team principal Christian Horner.

It’s the first Formula 1 team to launch in the United States for 2023, but even that small move of the needle reflects a major shift in the attitude of both F1’s management and their teams – and the extent to which the American audience has fully embraced the sport.

“It’s something fantastic and unique, for the sport to be able to break it into the U.S,” Perez told NBC Sports. “The market is huge and it’s a huge opportunity for everyone involved, for the drivers, for the team. It’s always a huge market.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Sergio Perez finished fourth in the Unites States Grand Prix, but he was first with the fans.  – Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images

In 2023, Formula 1 will race three times in the United States and five times in North America. The Circuit of the Americas will host their 11th consecutive race in October before heading south to Mexico City. Miami returns for a second time in May on a temporary street course around the Hard Rock cafe and the third addition is in downtown Las Vegas in November.

With the Canadian Grand Prix on the schedule for June and the Brazilian Grand Prix in November, American fans are now in the ballpark of Europeans, who have eight events on the continent and one in England.

In 2022, Verstappen won every race in North America. He was kept from sweeping the hemisphere only by George Russell, who won in Brazil. That fact is less remarkable when one considers that Verstappen won 15 times in the season – nearly two-thirds of the races on the schedule.

By the time Formula arrived in Austin, Texas, for Round 20 of 23, Verstappen already had wrapped up his second consecutive championship.

“Sometimes it can be hard to replicate the season, but I think it’s the same as with the car, right? You always try to improve it,” Verstappen told NBC Sports. “And I always look at the little details that even when you have had a good race, you could have done better. And then of course you also learn from the bad races. So we always try to look for these little improvements and general experience you gain year after year.

“You try to do better, but of course it also depends a lot on the package you have.”

Verstappen Perez United States
Max Verstappen United States Grand Prix win was one of 15 for the drivers and 17 for Red Bull.
(Gongora / NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Now Verstappen’s thoughts inevitably will turn to establishing a dynasty, and America will again play a pivotal role.

“I just enjoy what I’m doing,” Verstappen said.  “After the years in Formula One, when you have to be on top of your game and you gain a lot on your experience – in that sense nothing really can get to you anymore. Every year you just try to do the best you can. But a lot depends on the material around you. It’s always a bit of a guess. Start the season as fit as you can be and be well prepared. But if you don’t have the car, you’re not going to win the championship.”

Perez added two wins to Red Bull’s total, at Monaco and the Marina Bay Street course. With two of the US 2023 races on street courses, Perez hopes to close the gap on Verstappen and potentially be his chief rival for the championship.

“The strategy is clear; it is to maximize the potential of the car – and we believe we have a good car, but how good?,” Perez said “We don’t know what the competition is doing. We just give our best in building this car and we hope that it’s good enough to get us to win races.

“I think we have to work together as a team. At the same time. We both want to win the championship. It’s just having good compromise. The competition will be really strong out there, so we really need everything we possibly can get from each other.”

Formula One returns to the United States for Round 6 and the Miami Grand Prix on May 7.