INDIANAPOLIS – Starting fifth and finishing 10th in the INDYCAR Grand Prix meant Juan Pablo Montoya and the crew assembled for his No. 22 Fitzgerald Glider Kits Chevrolet entry for Team Penske ticked a few of the key prep-for-the-rest-of-May items on the checklist.
Montoya wanted to qualify in the Firestone Fast Six, which he did despite not competing in a Verizon IndyCar Series race since last season’s finale at Sonoma Raceway in September.
He wanted to make more mistakes here than the rest of the month, as he’s more focused on the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.
And he wanted the crew, led by engineer Raul Prados and strategist Ron Ruzewski (Penske technical director) to get up to speed as a collective unit and if they were to have slow pit stops, have them here.
When points don’t matter but the pursuit of a third Indianapolis 500 victory is present, using the Grand Prix as a tune-up act was all that mattered to the generally matter-of-fact Montoya, who remains one of the best quotes in the series.
The 1999 CART champion and past winner in both Formula 1 and NASCAR’s day was undone more than anything by struggles with the Firestone red alternate tires. Montoya, who hailed them in qualifying, said they weren’t as good for his car in race conditions.
“It wasn’t grip really. It was, I think the tires cut to chords, at least two sets of reds did. They went too early,” Montoya told NBC Sports post-race.
“It’s sad because we had a great car. We were stuck behind Josef (Newgarden). I was quicker than him. I was biding my time. I wasn’t even pushing or spinning tires. But two out of three sets on reds I think ended up on chords.”
The odd tire situation for Montoya’s car – consider Firestone is almost never adjudged to have issues within IndyCar – stunted progress but again, with the result largely irrelevant as he’s not in the championship battle, it didn’t dampen his spirits.
It just provided a change from the morning warmup.
“We never expected it. Even this morning we had a good amount of understeer. It was so easy to drive,” he said. “When it pushed, we had good speed. But if I pushed too hard within the window without doing anything stupid, say maybe five laps before the end of run I’d lose two to three seconds a lap.
“We made a couple mistakes in the pit stops. Couldn’t get fuel in and lost five to six seconds. Even without that problem we would have finished pretty decent.
“For what we were looking for out of this deal, it was good. It was a good refresher. I’m looking forward to the rest of this month with the Fitzgerald Glider Kit guys and Team Penske.”
And considering he was 33rd and last in last year’s 500 – a bizarre first-to-worst title defense – Montoya has nowhere to go but up starting on Monday.