Team Penske’s newest driver sampled his Chevrolet-powered Indy car for the first time on Nov. 25 during the first day of a two-day test at Sebring International Raceway. The goal was to get the former Indianapolis 500, Formula One and NASCAR race winner comfortable in the car he’ll race in 2014.
“The biggest thing is that everything is still happening really fast,” Montoya said. “It’s OK, but as it happens so fast you end up making mistakes. With more time in the car, everything will slow down and it will be easier. It’s happened to me before a few times, so I know that with time everything will be easier.”
Still, Montoya looked at home as he adapted to driving an open-wheel car for the first time since he left Formula One for NASCAR in 2006. He turned 20 laps during the morning test session and ran times comparable to Will Power, who the team brought in to set up the car for his new teammate.
“You don’t win races in Formula One and poles in Formula One and races in the CART Series on your first try if you’re slow,” Power said. “I actually expected to learn from him. He’s already brought some good ideas to the team even before he got in the car. Just from what I see from the data he has a very similar style to me. The way he brakes and everything. That should be good as far as our setups.”
The initial results also impressed one of his new bosses — Penske Racing President Tim Cindric, who said the task for the 1999 CART champion will be learning the nuances of racing in the IndyCar Series.
“He was within a few tenths of Will in the first outing,” Cindric said. “It was pretty impressive, really. We put him out on old tires just to learn where the gear shifts were and then put him back on Will’s tire and he was within a couple tenths right out of the box. Right now it’s happening pretty fast, he’s probably a half a second off the guys who were here last week, but that’s not too bad. Finding the last half second without losing his confidence will be the challenge.”
Montoya returns to car for another day of testing at Sebring. While he gave himself a grade of 8 out of 10. He said his goal for the test is to gain knowledge that he can use to help the entire team get better.
“Do I want to win? Of course I want to win,” he said. “Do I want to do the best I can. Yeah. How good is that going to be? I don’t know. You have to beat Will, who is one of the fastest guys in the series. Helio (Castroneves) has a ton of experience. I ran against him when I won the championship, and he’s still doing it. For them to get in the car every day, this is there home, and I need to make this my home.”
Interested observers abound
Among the interested observers of Montoya’s test were four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Rick Mears and Helio Castroneves. Both came to support their newest teammate even though neither had a role in the test plan.
“To have Will and Helio here to help says a lot,” Cindric said. “The three of those guys will have something to contribute.”
Castroneves, who raced against Montoya in CART, said the Colombian will be an asset to the team.
“He’s going to be an addition to the team, for sure. … So I’m excited to see him here,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of people are going to be excited to have him back and see him, as well.”