First of three parts looking at the Verizon IndyCar Series season of Juan Pablo Montoya through others' eyes. Today, race engineer Brian Campe.
Occasionally at the Team Penske headquarters in Mooresville, N.C., race engineer Brian Campe slips a stock car term into the conversation with Juan Pablo Montoya as supporting information.
The vernacular is as easily relatable as sidepod and attenuator for Campe, a former NASCAR Xfinity Series crew chief, and Montoya, who won three races in NASCAR’s two divisions before returning to Indy car racing.
This past season – the second with Team Penske in the Verizon IndyCar Series for both the race engineer and driver – they teamed up to produce the 16th Indianapolis 500 Mile Race victory for Roger Penske’s organization and a runner-up finish in the championship standings.
“Our relationship has gotten a bit stronger – what to do and what not to do and what directions work for us and what don’t,” said Campe, who in 2014 was the understudy to technical director Ron Ruzewski as race engineer on Montoya's No. 2 Chevrolet. “Last year we were a bit in space. We had our teammates to look at, and when that didn’t work we were like ‘Where do we go?’ There are so many options.
“We found our way toward the end of last season and we spent a good four days at the shop going through every race and asking what can we do better, where did we make mistakes and how do we fix those, where did we do good?
“We made a list of the things we were going to work on in the offseason, and then we got together again and said, ‘What do we need to do to be a championship team?'
“Then I went to the guys and said, ‘OK, these are our goals. We want to make the (Firestone) Fast Six on all the street and road courses. We want to sit on at least one pole on a street and road course. We want to sit on two poles on ovals. We want to win two oval races and one street or road course race.’ We set some realistic goals.”
Montoya won one race on an oval (Indianapolis 500) and street course (St. Petersburg), and advanced to the Firestone Fast Six segment of road/street course qualifying at six of the eight venues (New Orleans qualifying was rained out; he started from pole based on entrant points). He had a 6.4 average qualifying position and average finishing position of 6.9 through the 16-race season.
Because of Montoya’s vast and successful motorsports background, which includes Champ Car, Formula One, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, sports cars in Rolex 24 At Daytona, he’s vocal about what he does and does not like on the racetrack. Campe said it’s an asset.
“If you give him the feel he’s looking for in the car then he will perform,” Campe said. “My job is to translate those comments into bits and pieces and parts and changes. He can be animated but it’s never directed toward you personally; he’s just that passionate about wanting to do well. It’s raw emotion.
“I know when we’re bad we’re bad. When we’re good, he says ‘don’t touch it. What do you think about this? No, don’t touch it.’ That’s how our Indy 500 month went. We hit on something about halfway through the month and he said, ‘It’s good.’ We’d make a change and he’d say, ‘No, put it back.’
“You know when it’s bad but also know when it’s good because not knowing when you have something good could be a handicap as well. Last year I don’t think he knew; this year he does. Especially on the ovals, he knows exactly what he’s looking for.”