Photo: IndyCar

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

Leave a comment

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.”

April 9 in Motorsports History: Al Unser Jr. gets sixth Long Beach win

Leave a comment

The list of winners in the Grand Prix of Long Beach is a ‘who’s who’ of open-wheel racing.

Mario Andretti won at the famed street course four times. His son Michael won there twice.

Paul Tracy is also a four-time winner at the beach. Alex Zanardi, Juan Pablo Montoya, Sebastien Bourdais, and Alexander Rossi also have won at the famed course multiple times.

But there is only one “King of the Beach”: Al Unser Jr.

The winningest driver in the race’s history, Unser won at Long Beach four consecutive times from 1988-91. He won again in 1994 and entered the 1995 edition as the race’s defending champion and the defending CART champion as well.

Starting fourth, Unser made slight contact with Gil de Ferran when he passed the Brazilian on Lap 3. He then continued to move up to the front, taking the race lead from Teo Fabi on Lap 30.

Once he had the lead, Unser ran away from the field, winning by more than 23 seconds over Scott Pruett.

Unser’s victory was such a familiar scene that after the race, CART news manager John Procida began the winner’s news conference with the following statement: “Well, we have a very familiar face on the top rung of the podium. As we listed on the prerace press release, this seems to be the Al Unser Invitational.”

Indeed it was. Unser’s victory was his sixth at Long Beach, and the 28th of his career. overall. While it would be his last win there, Unser continued to race at Long Beach through 1998 before missing 1999 with a broken leg and moving to the Indy Racing Leauge in 2000.

In 2009, Unser was inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame, which honors significant contributors to the race and California motorsports community.

“It truly is just an honor to be mentioned with the names and the legends that have already been put into the sidewalk,” Unser said during the induction ceremony. “To have Brian (Redman, the inaugural winner of the race) and Parnelli (Jones) is really an honor and just to be in their company is very, very special.”

Also on this date:

1971: Jacques Villeneuve was born in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Canada. The second-generation driver was one of the best in open-wheel racing during the 1990s, winning the Indianapolis 500 and CART championship in ’95 and becoming a Formula One champion two years later.

1989: Rick Mears dominated CART’s Checker Autoworks 200 at Phoenix International Raceway, leading every lap from the pole and lapping the field.

2011: Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas won the Porsche 250 at Barber Motorsports Park, their sixth consecutive victory in Grand Am competition. Their lengthy win streak, which started on Aug. 7, 2010 at Watkins Glen, prompted Grand Am to offer a $25,000 bounty for any Daytona Prototype team that could beat the dominant duo. The Action Express trio of Joao Barbosa, J.C. France, and Terry Borcheller finally unseated Pruett and Rojas in the series’ next round at Virginia International Raceway.

Follow Michael Eubanks on Twitter @michaele1994