Juan Pablo Montoya met with members of the media and discussed his return to IndyCar, pre-season testing, his teammates at Team Penske and other topics.
THE MODERATOR: We have Juan Pablo Montoya rejoining the IndyCar Series.
Juan, going through some testing already, your thoughts?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I’m really excited. I mean, I feel like I’m not where I want to be yet with the car. I feel we have come a long way.
It’s weird. Sometimes we’re really good, some we’re average. The first Sebring test was horrible. I feel like Sonoma was pretty good. I was really happy.
It’s hard because the new tires are different than the ones I’ve been used to the last three years. I’m starting to get it, but the problem is I don’t get to put it all together.
If you look at my laps, if you put my fast three laps together, everything is there, it’s just a matter of putting it together in a lap. I think it’s just experience.
I feel like we gaining on it. I think I drive the car a little bit different than the other two. I think Helio drives a little bit more like me. Will just got used to driving the car in an awkward way to be quick. We’re just trying to make the car drive a little better.
You’re always on the limit, but to be more comfortable at the limit. So we’ll see.
THE MODERATOR: We’ll open it up for questions.
Q. Juan, how odd does it feel to you when you see a red car now on the track? Does it feel odd?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s kind of weird. I mean, a lot of the mechanics worked with me at the 24 Hours, especially when I was in the 02 car, it was all the Indy crew. It’s okay. They’re good people. That’s it.
Q. You’re rivals now.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Right now I’m my biggest rival.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Because I feel like I got to do a job, push myself. It’s good to have a guy like Will on the team that’s really quick and gets the job done. Helio has a lot of experience.
If I have my experience plus what they do, I think it’s pretty good. I felt like I brought a few things to the team already to make the cars better. We’ve gotten a little bit better, so I’m pretty happy. No complaints.
Q. Can you reflect a little bit on the NASCAR journey? What are your thoughts with Speedweeks going on? Does it feel odd at all that you’re not there? Do you feel like you’re where you belong?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s a feeling that I wasn’t missing it probably. It was weird actually. A month ago when they did their first set, I was with my son racing at Homestead. I got a text from Chevy, We’re missing you. I’m like, Why are you missing me (laughter)?
I had no idea they were even testing. It’s nice to do what I’m doing right now. I feel really happy. I’m really excited to be part of Team Penske. It’s a tough challenge ahead of me. I know that.
It seems weird because it seems like race speed is really good when we’re in race trim. Our pace is really good. I was telling my guys, like my race engineer, If you really look at it, even on new tires, I’m not missing corners. There’s a lot of room there for improvement and I know that. It’s not bad. It’s a process, I guess, I hope.
Q. You were talking about it being a difficult challenge. Obviously it was a difficult challenge when you moved over to NASCAR.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s completely different. The NASCAR one was one that it was like, Where the hell am I? The cars were very different. There was a lot of movement. This is the opposite because in NASCAR the limit of the car is very easy. You can get to the limit of the car very easy. The big thing is you’re driving it too hard. In IndyCar, you can’t drive it hard enough, or at least I can’t yet. I’m leaving a lot on the table. I think that’s the biggest thing.
Q. Having been successful in virtually every motorsports field you have taken part in, how do you look back and judge NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: When we had good cars, we did good. When we had bad cars, we did bad. I think as a team we threw a lot of races away. It’s part of the thing you always do.
The point is when you’re winning races, you throw a lot away and you still win a few. When you’re not winning races, you notice the things you throw away. I think that’s the biggest difference.
The focus for me now is IndyCar 100%. I’m pumped about it. I feel like a complete rookie right now, so it’s pretty cool.
Q. Kurt Busch is talking about wanting to come and do the Indy 500. For somebody who has your experience in open-wheel, trying to get up to speed from that point, after running NASCAR to now, how difficult do you think it’s going to be for him to jump in there for the month of May and get the job done?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think the configuration, the low downforce configuration of these cars, it’s not too bad. I haven’t driven around Indy. But like Fontana, I was up to speed in five laps. When I went to Phoenix, it took me half a day to get up to speed, it really did.
It’s hard because, Helio went out, ran wide open. You think, It’s wide open. Your brain says it’s wide open, but your body says, Hell no! You’re going into turn one wide open, you say, No, not happening.
It’s hard to get comfortable. Three and four wasn’t so bad in Phoenix. One and two were hard. That’s the high downforce. The high downforce, it’s just a matter of learning how far you can go with the car.
Low downforce, I think anybody would get used to it a lot easier.
Q. Roger said with the right funding, he’d like to see you run the Brickyard 400. Is that something else you want to do? A fan on Twitter wants to know if you have any interest in running the NASCAR road courses as well?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think the Brickyard would be a good thing. I’ve been so close so many times, it would be a good way of closing that chapter with a good win there. I know Roger hasn’t won there. If we could get the opportunity to do it, I think it would be pretty cool.
Q. Juan, comparing the IndyCars that you drove previously, what are the biggest changes you have noted?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The biggest thing is braking. The braking is unbelievable. Used to have a lot more power. But the initial acceleration is very similar. It’s when you go through the gears…
The braking in the corners, it’s unbelievable. The grip level of these cars, it’s like an eye-opening, to be honest.
Q. Would you have thought a couple years ago that you would ever be returning?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: At that point, no, because I felt comfortable with what I was doing and everything. But if I look back at everything I’ve done, the most fun and best racing I’ve done in my career, it’s been in IndyCar.
This was the perfect time to do it. I felt like two years from now, wouldn’t be able to do it. Timing-wise, it was ideal. So we’ll see.
Q. Are you surprised that you haven’t just jumped back into the IndyCar and it’s like riding a bike again?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, no. I mean, the speed was there right away. Once I pushed the car, the speed was there. The problem is, if you try to be too greedy too early, let’s say we got to Sonoma and I tried really early to push really hard, throw the car off, you spend the rest of the day repairing the car, you don’t learn anything.
Laps I think are very important at this point.
Q. You said you want to go back to IndyCar because you want to win again.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yeah.
Q. If it takes you time to win…
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s going to take me time to win. How much time, I don’t know. I’m not expecting to go out the first race and win to be honest. I have to understand strategies and everything.
If the team does a good job of that, it’s good. There’s a lot of things with saving fuel. There’s a lot of strategy that goes in that that I know of, but I haven’t experienced it.
Q. Your reputation and legacy being what it is, is the expectation and the pressure on you to be good immediately, to turn this series upside down quickly?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: My expectations?
Q. Not for yourself, from the outside.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I don’t care what the outside thinks. I really don’t. I put myself enough pressure to perform and do whatever it takes to get it done. I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else.
For me, it’s all about winning. You know me, I never really care what people think of me. I care what I think of me. I know when I do a good job and a bad job.
I feel I’ve done a really good job with the IndyCar so far, that I’ve done a good job getting up to speed.
It’s funny because a lot of it is, let’s say you run through the day, at the end of the day you look at the data, you look at what Will or Helio are doing, Oh, I got to do that. I go out there and just do it.
That’s going back to, okay, you could probably run wide open through here, nobody done it. If I tried and get it wrong, then I throw away half a day of testing.
I’d rather look at what they’re doing, copy what they’re doing. Then they do something different again. You go, Oh, next time I got to try this. It’s just a matter of doing that.
Q. Roger told us after the Sebring test it seemed you struggled, at least on paper. He said everything was going to be fine, that your biggest concern was getting him in the black pants. Is that accurate (laughter)?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The first Sebring test was a struggle. It was a struggle for all of us. The new motors, the old motors. It’s hard to judge how far behind are you. You say, I did that corner great. Coming down the straight, Oh, there you go.
At this point it’s been tough to really compare and know.
I would say, looking at Sonoma data after the test, I felt I could have been a little quicker than Helio. If I would put a lot together, I would be a 10th or two behind Will. I know there’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s not like, He’s so much better everywhere.
It’s just two corners. One of them, I screw up. Like I went in, got a huge moment. I know I can do that. The other one was like, Wow!
The good thing with me, when I go, Oh, wow, I just go and try it. I always have had the attitude, if somebody can do it, it can be done. What the heck, give it a try.
Q. Are you wearing the black pants now?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Absolutely. Proudly. I told them today actually white shirt, the Verizon white shirt looks better than the black shirt. But they say, White shirt is management. Again, I’m not management, I’m just a driver. Black shirt for me (laughter).
Q. How familiar are you with the St. Petersburg track? What are your thoughts on it?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I’ve seen about a hundred videos of it. I watched the races. I will start watching the races again just to figure out how to drive the car, see what they do and stuff.
That’s one of the hardest challenges, the first time on a street course, St. Petersburg. I think it’s going to be eye-opening. I think it’s going to be a slow-building weekend, getting comfortable in the car.
It’s something I’ve been getting better at, work on the car. Going fast, it’s easier. If you’re not comfortable in the car, first of all the chances of getting it wrong are big and you’re never going to be good enough.
I’ve been working hard on things that I like about the cars, things I don’t like about the cars. Setup-wise we’re a little different at the moment.
Q. Given the fact you’ve had so much success throughout your career, but also you’re kind of a rookie again, what would be a successful season for you?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Winning the Indy 500 and fighting for the championship. You would say that would be a good season.
Q. You think those are realistic expectations?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: You look at my oval experience in NASCAR, it’s huge. I did ovals before. You have to figure out again in IndyCars what you can do and what you can’t do. It will be fine.
Going back to the same thing: if you can get the car to do what you want, you’re going to be really competitive. Is it going to be easy? No. If it was easy, anybody would do it.
Q. In the 2000 Indianapolis 500, it was said you weren’t impressed with the car. How much have you seen this car evolve?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: This car is more of a CART car than an IndyCar. They’re completely different, I think, personally.
Q. Is this a hard car to drive? What makes them different?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: When it’s bad, it’s a horrible car to drive. When it’s good, it’s really, really good. When we did the Sebring test, it was awful. My first test was there. My first test I ran half a second quicker than I was running there. I ran a half second quicker without any effort. When we went back, What the heck is wrong with this?
Q. Is there any consideration this year to try to run the Daytona 500 and Indy 500, to be the guy to win them both?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, unless Roger asks me.
Q. Have you asked him?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. I got enough things going on. No, no, no, no, no (laughter).
Q. What did you think of the pace car fire?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Which one?
Q. Not yours.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t see it. I was in a car. Sebastien was racing. We came back from a dinner. Actually my wife turned it on because she saw a tweet about it. They were interviewing Stewart after the crash. She wanted to watch the race and I fell asleep. I’m not saying I fell asleep because it was boring, I was just tired.