When Juan Pablo Montoya competes in his first Indianapolis 500 since 2017, it will be a McLaren reunion in 2021.
Montoya drove the West McLaren Mercedes in the Formula One World Championship in 2005 and 2006 after spending 2001 to 2004 with Williams BMW. He left Formula One after 2006 to race in the NASCAR Cup Series, where he drove for Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates from 2007 to 2013. Montoya returned to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES when he joined Team Penske from 2014-17. Montoya won his second Indy 500 in 2015 with Roger Penske’s famed operation.
Montoya just concluded a successful three-year run with Acura Team Penske in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship before that part of Team Penske was dissolved. That allowed two-time Indy 500 winner Montoya to strike a deal with Arrow McLaren SP for the 105th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in 2021.
“It’s pretty exciting, to be honest,” Montoya said. “I got to quite a few Formula One races, and I still see a lot of the same guys that were on my car when I raced in F1. They are still working there, running the cars and running the team. That includes a lot of the people I have worked with over the years. I worked with (McLaren CEO) Zak Brown when he represented Verizon for a little bit in INDYCAR.
“The opportunity to return to the Indy 500 with Arrow McLaren SP will be a lot of fun and an interesting challenge.”
Montoya, who won his debut Indianapolis 500 start in 2000 with Chip Ganassi Racing, believes he has a realistic chance to compete for the victory in 2021 at Indy
“I’ve had quite a bit of success at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway,” Montoya said.
1999 CART champion Montoya left North American open-wheel racing for Formula One after the 2000 season and amassed seven F1 victories from 2001-06. He scored two NASCAR Cup Series wins before returning to INDYCAR and the Indy 500 in 2014.
Montoya finished fifth in his second Indy 500 and drove Team Penske’s Verizon Chevrolet to the 2015 Indianapolis 500 win to give him a remarkable two wins and a fifth-place finish in his first three attempts.
Montoya finished last in the 33-car field in the 100th Indianapolis 500 in 2016 when he crashed after 63 laps and finished sixth the last time he was in the Indy 500, in 2017.
“I always run well at Indy and have been very good with traffic and the long races, making good decisions,” Montoya said. “It’s a matter of being there when it matters and being patient and understanding the race itself. When you can do that, you look at guys like Helio Castroneves. When he has a bad year, he is always there at the end.
“In 2016, it was an awful year. We were waiting for the track to come to us because we were running the same car that we won with in 2015. It never did. The car was never the same. We struggled, and that was a big wakeup call for us.
“Other than that, we have been focusing on day to day, running the car and making sure we attack whatever issues you have at that time. That’s all you can do.”
With his career at Team Penske concluded following the 2020 IMSA season, Montoya can pick and choose the races in which he wants to compete. That includes another trip to the 24 Hours of Le Mans with DragonSpeed. Should he win the world’s most famous endurance race, Montoya would complete the Triple Crown of Motorsports, which also includes his win at Monaco in 2003 and his two Indy 500 wins.
A chance to win the Indy 500 for the third time in his career is at the top of Montoya’s list.
“Qualifying is a part of it but you need to make sure you can race well,” Montoya said. “It doesn’t matter how fast you run over one lap or four laps, it’s how you finish in the race. You need to make sure you have a good race car. I have a lot of knowledge.
“I talked to Sam Schmidt and told him whoever is going to be in charge of my car for those two weeks, I’m going to make his life very miserable. I’m going to ask a lot out of him and a lot of what I want out of the car. But if we can get there, we’re going to have a great Sunday.”
That man will be Craig Hampson, the engineer that helped guide Sebastien Bourdais to four straight Champ Car Series championships from 2004-07. Most recently, Hampson was Bourdais’ engineer at Dale Coyne Racing with Vasser and Sullivan from 2017 to 2019 before joining Arrow McLaren SP in 2020.
Hampson was two-time Formula One World Champion Fernando Alonso’s Indy 500 engineer in 2020.
“We’re just getting started,” Montoya said of his working relationship with Hampson. “We have traded emails, but I just returned from Europe last week. We are just getting started. I’m excited. I want to get the seat done and a lot of things out of the way to make life easier. It should be pretty good. I’m pretty excited about it.
“They had strong cars last year. I’m pretty open-minded about it. The only reason I want to do it is because I want to win it again. There are no points for me, so I’m going there to do the best we can.”