With championship unlikely, Montoya on recent performance nosedive: ‘It’s getting really old fast’

(Getty Images)
1 Comment

As much as he has tried to turn things around, Juan Pablo Montoya’s nosedive continues in the Verizon IndyCar Series.

Montoya recorded his third 20th-place finish in the last four races in Sunday’s Honda Indy Toronto.

After winning the season-opening race at St. Petersburg, Florida, Montoya has spiraled down, down and down some more.

He was third in the standings after the Angie’s List Grand Prix. Two weeks later, after finishing an embarrassing 33rd in the Indianapolis 500 – and one year after he won the Greatest Spectacle In Racing – Montoya plummeted seven spots to 10th.

While he improved to sixth after Belle Isle Race 1, one day later he dropped again to ninth after Belle Isle Race 2. He dropped to 11th after last week’s race at Iowa and is now 13th after Toronto.

And with five races now left on the schedule, Montoya (279 points) finds himself a massive 153 points behind points leader and Penske teammate Simon Pagenaud (432 points).

Granted, JPM is only 14 points out of 10th place (Carlos Munoz, 293 points). But with less than one third of the season remaining now, any championship hopes are all but gone.

That is, unless he goes on a Will Power-like run. Power, who won Sunday’s race, has now won three of the last four races (and the fourth race he finished runner-up).

“Yeah, it’s terrible,” Montoya said after Sunday’s race. “On Friday, I made a mistake and went into the wall, so we got behind.

“(Saturday) morning we had a misfire with the engine and didn’t do any laps before qualifying. We didn’t qualify as well as we could. We knew we had a good race car though.

“The DeVilbiss Chevy was really good. I passed a lot of people and had a lot of fun. I thought I had an easy podium if not more.”

But then Montoya was involved in an incident that essentially ended his day – and potentially any last hope to rebound for the championship that he just barely lost in last year’s season finale to Scott Dixon.

“We missed a pit call by about two seconds,” Montoya said of the latter stage of Sunday’s race. “I started at the back.

“I was running with the No. 28 (Ryan Hunter-Reay) there late and went to turn with him, but the No. 41 (Jack Hawksworth) was in the wall and there was nowhere to go.

“It seems like every weekend there is something, and it’s getting really old really fast.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Ford Mustang GT3 test has Austin Cindric dreaming of Daytona: ‘I want to drive that car’

Cindric Ford GT3 test
Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Austin Cindric wasn’t the “mystery” test driver behind the wheel of the new Ford Mustang GT3 at Sebring International Raceway, but the Team Penske driver desperately wanted to be.

Ford CEO Jim Farley, an amateur sports car driver himself, made the big reveal via a Tuesday tweet that provided the first video evidence of the GT3 Mustang on track.

“I’ve watched the video in question about a million times,” Cindric said Wednesday during a Ford Performance Zoom news conference to promote NASCAR’s first road course weekend of the season at Circuit of the Americas. “Definitely exciting times for sure. I want to drive that car. It suits my experience level and also the relationships that I have.”

Ford will enter the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship next season with its GT3 Mustang, entering a two-car factory effort (that will be managed by Multimatic) in GTD Pro and making customer cars available in the GT Daytona category.

That increases the likelihood of seeing more NASCAR drivers crossing over to IMSA. Cindric has been the only full-time Cup driver in the Rolex 24 at Daytona the past two years, but Ford Performance global director Mark Rushbrook has said the GT3 Mustang will provide more opportunities.

Ford has used its GT4 Mustang as a NASCAR driver development tool in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge with Harrison Burton and Zane Smith combining to win the season opener at Daytona International Speedway in January.

“We’re excited about the Next Gen car and the new architecture there and the similarities between that car and GT3 and even GT4 cars,” Rushbrook said at the announcement of the Ford GT3 program in January 2022 at Daytona. “We think it’s a great opportunity and to do be able to do that in a 24-hour race and get NASCAR drivers even more time is something we need to consider taking advantage of that opportunity.”

Given his sports car background, Cindric probably still would be in the Rolex 24 regardless. He has eight IMSA starts since the 2017 season opener at Daytona, racing a Lexus RCF GT3 and Mercedes-AMG GT3 in the GT category. The 2022 Daytona 500 winner made his second LMP2 start this year with Rick Ware Racing.

But Cindric’s preference naturally would be in a Ford, particularly with sports car racing enjoying convergence and crossovers in both GT and prototype racing.

“It’s an exciting time in GT racing, just as it is now for prototype racing with a lot of new regulations and manufacturers building new GT3 cars,” he said. “And also the opportunity with WEC (the World Endurance Championship) and Le Mans and how that all lines up for that category of car. It’s definitely an exciting time. I want to be as much of a part of that as possible.”

Though those odds seemingly will increase with multiple Ford entries in the Rolex 24 field next year, Cindric said NASCAR drivers still have to put in the networking to land rides as he has in recent years.

“Now how (the GT3 Mustang) relates to specifically NASCAR drivers and how often they want to be in the Rolex, could it be an influence? Absolutely, as far as the tie-in with the manufacturer,” Cindric said. “But the challenge and the drive and the logistics of getting an opportunity for a race like the Rolex 24 will be just as challenging as it always is to find your one-off ride for the race. At least from my experience, that’s what I still anticipate.”

It turned out the “mystery” test driver wasn’t from NASCAR (Farley revealed the driver to be 24 Hours of Le Mans winner Joey Hand after a fan asked whether it was Joey Logano).

But Cindric believes there could be more Cup drivers — and perhaps himself — behind the wheel of Mustang GT3s in the future.

“There’s definitely more of a pathway than I think there would be before as far as Ford drivers are concerned,” he said. “Hopefully, I’ll get the opportunity to drive that thing. It’s obviously a great looking car. That’s the first box you’ve got to check. And it’s cool (to have) a guy like Jim Farley, no doubt he’s a racer just as much as he is steering the ship for Ford. It’s cool to see he’s just as excited as the rest of us about it.”