Juan Pablo Montoya is returning to open-wheel racing and the Indianapolis 500 and he’ll be driving for the most successful team owner in Indianapolis 500 history, Roger Penske.
Although it will be Montoya’s first Indianapolis 500 since 2000, he has competed in a race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway every year since.
Montoya won the Indianapolis 500 for team owner Chip Ganassi in his only attempt in 2000 when he dominated that race, leading 167 of the 200 laps and becoming the first rookie to win at Indianapolis since Graham Hill in 1966. Montoya would later return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2001 in Formula One with Williams and would compete in the United States Grand Prix from 2001-2006 until he left to join Ganassi’s NASCAR Sprint Cup team and would race at the Brickyard 400 from 2007-2013.
He finished second in the Brickyard 400 his rookie season in NASCAR as he became the first driver ever to compete in all three races at IMS.
At 37, the driver from Colombia is ready to return to high-speed IndyCar racing as he joins the IZOD IndyCar Series full-time for Team Penske in 2014. He will team up with current drivers three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves of Brazil and Will Power of Australia.
“If you really dream of any ideal position for a driver, and you could say, you could race for Penske, I think that would be No. 1,” Montoya said Monday. “When I heard and it was announced that I wasn’t going to be in the 42 car next year, my No. 1 choice was going to be in a winning car. I really wanted to be in a winning car.
“Having Helio and Will as teammates, two great guys, guys that ‑ one is leading the championship and the other guy has so much speed and so much potential that between them, I think they can help me a lot get up to speed.
“You have to remember, I’ve been out of the open‑wheel for a while, so I’m going to have to get up to speed with everything again but I’m looking forward to the challenge.”
It’s been a long time since Montoya has been behind the wheel of an open-wheel race car and even longer since he has driven a high-speed IndyCar at an oval. He admits that he needs to get back in “race shape” to wrestle an IndyCar around the many road and street courses that are on the 2014 schedule, but is prepared for the challenge.
And when it comes to oval racing there is one oval that stands above all others and that is the one that Montoya wants to conquer – again.
“To be honest with you, the oval side I’m not too worried about it,” Montoya said. “I think having the seven years of NASCAR and then my open‑wheel experience before that, I think I’m pretty excited about going to the ovals. I know we don’t go to a lot, but you know, the one you want to win, it’s an oval.
“You want to win the Indy 500. I’m excited about that. I have the opportunity to be in the car at Indy and I think with Penske it is going to be huge.
“And I think the other one is going to be a process. I normally pick up things really quick; all my career I have. As I said before, having Will and Helio as teammates helping me out is going to really help me get up to speed. I’m going to have to learn a lot again, but I’m up to the challenge – that is the No. 1 thing.”
Penske knows what it takes to win the Indianapolis 500. His cars have won that race a record 15 times. The addition of Montoya gives Team Penske three drivers capable of delivering a 16th Indy 500 win in 2014.
“Juan is a proven winner at all levels of motorsport,” said team owner Roger Penske. “He has won a lot of races and championships and he has an extremely passionate fan base. We look forward to building on his successes together and we believe he will be a great addition to Team Penske.”
When it was announced earlier this year that Montoya would not be returning to Ganassi’s No. 42 Target Chevrolet in NASCAR rival IndyCar team owner Michael Andretti explored the possibility of adding Montoya to his impressive team that currently includes 2012 IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay, three-time IndyCar winner in 2013 James Hinchcliffe, two-time IndyCar race winner Marco Andretti and E.J. Viso of Venezuela.
Montoya informed the team last Friday he would not compete for Andretti next season but few realized the reason why was because a deal with Team Penske was in the works.
It all started with a chance meeting at Michigan Int’l Speedway in August.