Juan Pablo Montoya had fulltime interest elsewhere but came to a simple conclusion in deciding to return to Team Penske for a one-off ride in the 2017 Indianapolis 500.
“To be honest with you,” he said Thursday, “you can’t beat Penske.”
Team owner Roger Penske just celebrated his 50th anniversary in motorsports with Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Helio Castroneves sweeping the top three points positions in 2016. Then “The Captain” went out and hired the fourth-place finisher, Josef Newgarden of Ed Carpenter Racing, to replace Montoya, who finished seventh in the No. 2 Chevrolet.
Penske kept the door open for Montoya to return in a fifth car for May’s 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, but the 41-year-old Colombian initially committed himself to finding a fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series ride. After mulling his options, he realized nobody else would give him a better chance to win the season’s most important race.
“If you go somewhere else and you don’t have a good car, I didn’t feel comfortable going a year with an unknown,” Montoya said. “At this point in my career, I don’t need it. At this point, I do it because I want to, not because I have to. I think that makes a big difference.”
Penske cars have won a record 16 Indianapolis 500s, the most recent being Montoya’s second victory in 2015. No other name is more synonymous with success than Penske: the team’s Indy car resume is at 187 wins and 14 driver championships and counting.
“Everybody at Penske was really good to me,” Montoya said. “They said, ‘Hey, look around, if you find something better, go on and do it, we understand.’”
Montoya has proven he can win in every major motorsports series, be it INDYCAR, NASCAR or Formula One. Just before saying farewell on track to Penske and president Tim Cindric after the season-ending GoPro Grand Prix of Sonoma on Sept. 18, Montoya said he was aware of interest from other teams, which reportedly included Carpenter, Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, Andretti Autosport and AJ Foyt Racing.
But coming back to Indianapolis Motor Speedway with Penske eliminates the extra work of a familiarization process with a new team. Montoya has actually started to see the advantages of more free time, especially with son Sebastian becoming more involved in competitive karting.
When it’s time again for Montoya to run, he’s convinced Penske will provide everything needed to give him the best chance at a historic third Indy 500 win.
“I don’t look at that (history) too much, but knowing I’ve won two of four races (he’s competed in) there, I think my odds are pretty good,” he said. “I’m really excited to go there and have the opportunity to go there with Team Penske. I know I’m going to have as good (of) equipment as anybody on the team. It just gives me the confidence that we can get the job done.
“It will be fun. It’s going to give me some time for myself. When May comes, it’s go time.”
Montoya says he hasn’t given much thought to racing for another team outside of Indianapolis. Should a team want to secure his services, he offered simple advice.
“You need to call Roger,” he said.