If the worst kept secret in racing the last several months was that Team Penske was running a sports car program with Acura, the second worst kept secret was that Juan Pablo Montoya would be one of its drivers.
With today’s announcement however, the 41-year-old Colombian can now officially talk about his new full-time ride.
Montoya’s been renowned for his career versatility and winning in IndyCar, NASCAR and Formula 1. And now, how he’ll be back in action after an abnormal 2017 season where he’s tested two generations of IndyCars, will have tested two entirely different types of sports cars, raced an IndyCar twice for Team Penske in May at Indianapolis, won the Race of Champions in January, and spent some quality time karting in Europe with son Sebastian, who is beginning to blossom on that front.
It all adds up to a wild year of Juan Pablo that has been part slow, part flat out depending on the month.
“It’s been weird because at the beginning of the year, it was actually really calm until Indy,” Montoya said. “We had a little testing here or there, but it wasn’t much.
“Then two months with Indy and then kart racing in Europe. Since then it’s been non‑stop. I think the next three, four months are going to be non‑stop.
“But I don’t mind that. I really don’t mind. Doing the testing for the IndyCar has been a lot of fun for the ’18 IndyCar. There’s no pressure. Just go there, you know, drive the wheels out of it with no compromise. That makes it fun.”
Montoya’s three days of testing in that car at Indianapolis, Mid-Ohio and Iowa have been an excellent case study in “JPM unleashed.”
Without the restrictions, as noted, his trademark unreal car control has been on display as he’s been able to push the car – in only its base setup – through all the items the INDYCAR officials want to see. Being able to drive at least seven or eight mph faster on a straight at Mid-Ohio already speaks to a good development path.
It’s a cool place for Montoya to be in, leaving a legacy as one of two test drivers for the new car. And he’ll get that same opportunity within the Penske Acura program, because he’ll have a chance to work alongside one of racing’s most experienced 28-year-olds, in Dane Cameron.
Cameron’s already raced in all four IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship classes and has won titles in two of them (Prototype, GT Daytona), while having driven a variety of cars ranging from this year’s Cadillac DPi-V.R to the previous generation Corvette DP, the BMW Z4 GT3 he won the GTD title with in 2014, a Risi Ferrari F458 Italia (the same team Montoya tested with this spring at Sebring) and more.
That makes Cameron a natural teammate with Montoya in more ways than one; he’s excelled across a variety of cars and series at a young age. Montoya was a CART and Indianapolis 500 champion at 24, an F1 race winner by 26 and a NASCAR Cup race winner by 32.
“I think it’s very exciting for me because Dane is a young guy, is a guy that has run the series, understands the series. I think he has a lot of knowledge,” Montoya explained.
“I’ve been driving all kinds of cars. As you know, I’ve driven everything. I’ve been successful in everything. I’m excited to bring something to the table, and at the same time as a driver, find something new, learn new things.
“I think we can work together really well and hopefully bring a ton of victories.”
Montoya will handle the bulk of the Acura ARX-05’s initial testing as Cameron won’t be available until after his current contract with Action Express Racing in its No. 31 Whelen Engineering Racing Cadillac ends mid-October, following Petit Le Mans.
Penske Racing president Tim Cindric is optimistic the Penske Acura program, which he expects will see a combination of he, Kyle Moyer and Jeff Swartwout overseeing portions if not all of it, will be on track by the end of the month following the ARX-05’s formal reveal at The Quail in Monterey later this week.
While Montoya would still be a natural to run an extra Team Penske IndyCar at the Indianapolis 500 next year provided the opportunity is there – he said “I would say yes in a heartbeat” to that – he said the sports car focus will be top of mind as he returns to full-time action in what will be a deep championship.
“I think it would be a fun car. From what everybody says, it has a ton of grip,” he said. “I always enjoyed driving the (old) Daytona Prototypes because you could throw them around a lot. These cars seem to have a lot more downforce and a lot more power, so I’m excited. I just don’t know what to expect.
“I think it’s going to be a lot better and a lot quicker than what I’m thinking.”