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Montoya Makes No Apologies for Total Focus on Third Indy Win

Juan Pablo Montoya has apologized in advance. To the team which signed him for this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. To the veteran engineer he is working with for the first time. To everyone who strays within earshot of his famously pointed Colombian communication.

Montoya is at Indianapolis Motor Speedway to win the 105th edition of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” and he won’t apologize for being on a mission. Which, by the way, he clearly is on.

“I don’t know if it’s with years (of experience), but you become a lot more aware of everything the car is doing and what you don’t want the car to do, so I’m really, really picky,” the veteran driver said. “I’ve learned that the pickier you are, the more a pain in the butt you are for everybody (around you).

“The end result is normally better.”

Montoya knows of what he speaks, not only because of his age (45) and years in the sport (29) but also the things he has accomplished (a CART championship in 1999, two Indianapolis 500 victories, seven race wins over six Formula One seasons and seven full seasons in NASCAR’s Cup Series). Montoya holds Indy’s record for years between “500” victories – 15 – winning the race both with Chip Ganassi Racing in 2000 and Team Penske in 2015.

For a driver with only five starts in the “500” – by comparison, Helio Castroneves has 20 – Montoya knows what he wants from a race car and a team at IMS. And he emphasized that to Arrow McLaren SP officials and veteran engineer Craig Hampson, who in recent years at IMS has helped James Hinchcliffe win the NTT P1 Award pole in 2016 and deliver Dale Coyne Racing fast cars with Sebastien Bourdais.

“From Day 1, I told Craig that I hope you don’t hate me at the end of the month, but I’m going to wear you out,” the Colombian said without breaking a smile. “I don’t mean it in a bad way. If it ever looks like I’m being in a bad way, it’s really not. I just want to get the most out of this opportunity.”

Montoya last competed in the “500” in 2017, finishing sixth, and has been itching to return since. But he was a spectator at home each Memorial Day weekend because his sports car contract with Acura Team Penske prohibited him from driving for another team, and Roger Penske’s stable here was full.

Montoya understood his status even as he received annual calls from Zak Brown, who leads Arrow McLaren SP.

Brown ran Fernando Alonso at IMS in 2017 (with Andretti Autosport), 2019 and 2020, but the two-time Formula One champion has a two-year commitment to Renault, keeping him away from this event. Arrow McLaren SP is fielding Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist full time in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and didn’t need to enter a third car in the “500,” but the opportunity to run Montoya was too good to pass up.

At least so far in this test, Montoya is taking a different approach. As a rookie in 2000, he famously turned an all-lap lap on his third time by. In other years when he arrived at this iconic 2.5-mile oval after an absence, he similarly was all-out in typical Montoya fashion as quickly as possible.

That wasn’t the case Thursday, especially after second-year driver Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing pounded the SAFER Barrier in Turn 1 on his fourth hot lap. VeeKay broke a finger in the incident and sat out Friday’s test day due to the car being too damaged.

“You need to be (smart); there’s no rush,” Montoya said. “I’ve been trying to be really smart about everything, and in the end (of Thursday), I was a lot more comfortable running flat no problems.”

Montoya spoke of trying to relax more in the car, primarily his hands.

The Colombian also is trying to be a mentor to O’Ward and Rosenqvist, teaching them the importance of being picky about car setup.

“You have to work on the car every session, every day,” Montoya said.

Likely coincidentally, Montoya and the No. 86 Arrow McLaren SP crew are set up in the pit box just south of Indy’s iconic Yard of Bricks. If that’s where they work from Sunday, May 30, they will be only steps from victory lane, a place where Montoya is capable of driving.

That celebration could happen, and it would be wise to listen to the veteran driver as he helps guide the program in that direction.

“(Hampson) is really, really good and really good here, and I think I’m decent here,” Montoya said. “Honestly, you look at Helio (at Meyer Shank Racing), you look at myself, we’ve got a shot at winning this race. We can.”

And might.

NBC and the INDYCAR Radio Network will have live coverage of the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge at 11 a.m. ET on Sunday, May 30.

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