The natural question with today’s official confirmation that Josef Newgarden will be in Team Penske’s fourth full-season entry in the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017 was what comes next for Juan Pablo Montoya.
And while Montoya is testing the waters from a full-time IndyCar perspective – he has been linked to a couple different possible teams and scenarios, including replacing Newgarden at Ed Carpenter Racing – Team Penske president Tim Cindric said the door remains open to him at Penske if he wants it.
Cindric publicly acknowledged that Montoya could be run in a fifth IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 or, more crucially, in a potential Team Penske sports car program.
New prototype regulations are on the horizon in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship with the Daytona Prototype international platform entering in 2017 – teams will run one of the four homologated LMP2 chassis with manufacturer branded body styling. Meanwhile, the FIA World Endurance Championship remains a tantalizing prospect in LMP1 as well, although the hybrid class there is subscribed only by full factories.
“When we sat down with Juan at Toronto, we weren’t prepared to do what we did until the end of the season,” Cindric told reporters in a media teleconference. “We were up front with him about the whole situation.
“We’d like him to be part of the team… it just doesn’t mean the 2 car full-time. We have a seat for Indy if he wants one. If we do a sports car program, we want him to be involved.
“But he wants to drive another season in IndyCar. He said, ‘This year, I feel I have some unfinished business.’ So he’s exploring different options… he’s trying to find out if there’s a full-season ride available.
“We’d love for him to continue with our team… but do we position ourselves for another year with him and miss the opportunity to have Josef for us? Juan has been a big part of our success. He’s been a great guy to work with.
“The ball is in his court. It’s not the first choice for him… but we’d like to continue if it makes sense for him.”
The greater sports car component comes after Penske himself touched on the possibility at the Sonoma season finale, while also tiptoeing around the driver situation.
“I’ll say what Tim has said, we’ve wanted to run sports cars for a number of years when we were in with Porsche,” Penske said.
“Hopefully there’s an opportunity. We’ve had a chance to talk to two or three different manufacturers. That has some bearing on what we might do, vis-a-vis with the IndyCar also.”
It’s very interesting that Montoya, 41, and Newgarden, 25, will be linked in IndyCar history because of this decision.
Montoya is one of the drivers of his generation, having won in F1, IndyCar and NASCAR with two Indianapolis 500s and the 1999 CART title among his many racing accolades.
Newgarden is the prime up-and-comer in the championship, having won three races with Ed Carpenter Racing between 2015 and 2016.
This year, the two raced head-to-head on a number of occasions, notably at Road America battling over seventh, and then with Montoya hopeful he could have been in Newgarden’s zip code at Iowa before a mechanical issue.
“I felt we’d be really strong. But I don’t know if we had a car for Josef,” Montoya told NBC Sports at the time. “I would have liked to find out. We race each other clean. We have a lot of respect for each other.”
Cindric, too, is wary of the prospect of needing to beat Montoya if he finds another full-time seat.
“Replacing Juan Montoya with anyone is a difficult call. If he doesn’t end up racing for us… he still may beat us,” Cindric said.
“He’s not done. But we have to do what’s best for us, short- and long-term. This is where we are.”