Montoya enjoys first oval test for Penske
Despite the best efforts of Mother Nature, Juan Pablo Montoya completed his first two IndyCar Series oval track tests for Team Penske this week at both Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) and Auto Club Speedway (ACS). The team was originally scheduled to test at ACS on Monday, Dec. 9 and PIR on Wednesday, Dec. 11, but high winds in Fontana, Calif. forced an adjustment to the schedule as the Team Penske Dallara/Chevrolet instead ran at PIR on Tuesday and ACS on Thursday.
The tests marked the first time in an IndyCar on an oval for the 1999 CART Series champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner since the 2000 season. Team Penske teammate, Helio Castroneves, turned a handful of laps at each venue before turning things over to Montoya. Each day Montoya improved his lap times and was able to get close to the times set by Castroneves, a 16-time oval winner in IndyCar, including three Indianapolis 500 victories.
“These were two important tests for me, especially the Phoenix test,” said Montoya, who ran his first test for the team at the Sebring road course on Nov. 25-26. “The short ovals are going to be my biggest challenge because you have to run flat-out. That wasn’t the case when I was in the series in 1999 and 2000. The speed you carry through the corners is unbelievable.”
In his NASCAR Cup Series career, Montoya made a combined 25 starts at both PIR and ACS.
“The way you drive these two tracks is completely different from NASCAR to IndyCar,” continued Montoya. “We’re running about six seconds a lap faster than in NASCAR. I appreciate Helio making time to come out. He was a huge help. I learned a long time ago that it’s easier on you to work on the car and make it do what you want. Before I would just drive it but today we had a great plan and took small steps to get where we needed to be.”
In addition to Castroneves, engineers from all three Team Penske teams were in attendance at both tests. Everyone came away impressed with Montoya and excited about his addition to the Team Penske lineup.
“I told Roger (Penske) that it’s easy to see why he has so much success in this series,” said Montoya. “These cars are so fast. The people on these teams are very talented. I’m excited about this chapter of my career.”
Montoya will make his Team Penske debut in the opening race of the 2014 IndyCar Series season at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg on March 30. Montoya will participate in several more test sessions with the team over the next several weeks to continue his preparation for the 2014 season.