Juan Pablo Montoya will be making his seventh start in the Indianapolis 500, which is expected to be his most difficult yet.
The 46-year-old Colombian is back for the month of May, piloting the No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet for the second consecutive season as a third entry alongside full-time drivers of Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist.
Opening the two-race stint in the NTT IndyCar Series on the Indy road course, Montoya was enjoying the possibility of a top five before a damaged right side ended with a 24th-place result.
Qualifying for this Sunday’s Indianapolis 500 didn’t get off to the best start for Montoya after a failed technical inspection. The consequence bumped his original qualifying roll-off draw position from ninth to 32nd. Now, he faces an uphill climb in an effort to win his third Indy 500.
“These cars are harder to pass than before,” he said. “So we need a little bit of luck with a safety car to get us back off again. We need to execute well, we already made the mistake before the start of the race. We screw up as a team in qualifying and we missed the spot we needed to run and we missed the balance when the conditions were a lot worse.
“We had a really good balance for cool and calm conditions, but we didn’t have a good balance when it was hotter and windier. That bit us in the ass and that’s it. We try to re-run and it rained and that was that. Those were the cards that were dealt to us and you can keep crying about it and move on and do what you need to do from there.”
In Montoya’s six previous starts, he has never started this far back. Last year’s Indy 500 had him placed 24th on the grid at the green flag, which converted into a ninth-place finish.
Of his two aforementioned victories in the 500-mile classic, only one had Montoya coming from the outside of the top 10. He did not just overcome a 15th place start, an eventful race put him back of the pack in 30th for a brief period of time.
Montoya was helped by a series of cautions and got into the top three and passed Will Power and Scott Dixon with a handful of laps left in the race. This time around, it’s not just a mid-field start it all depends on how the race is setup from that deep starting position.
“I just go with it,” Montoya said. “Every time you have a plan it goes completely the opposite. I remember at the beginning of F1 when you used standing starts. Okay, I’m going to go and stay around the outside and you hadn’t even dropped the clutch and you went right.
“You went to the inside and you are like, ‘Why are you such an idiot?’ So I learned not to think about it. I’ve learned to go and if the opportunity presents to pass you take it. If the opportunity is not there, you don’t go, ‘Oh I’m going to go on the outside of four people in the first corner.’
“Because you have people that feel that way, think that way and even if they are three-wide they are going to go four-wide because they said they were going to do that. And normally those people don’t win.”
Six races at the Brickyard may not match the double digit starts of fellow drivers in their 40s such as Dixon, Power and Tony Kanaan. However, Montoya keeps it honest and simple when it comes to preparation for Sunday’s event.
Much of the practice week at Indy, the AMSP part-time effort didn’t run with a variety of drivers and tended to stay out of the tow and ran a total of 163 laps. In comparison to a former two-time winner of the race, Takuma Sato completed 117 circuits in a single session.
“The thing is, I think on Monday when it was cool, I think a lot of people did that on a cool track,” said Montoya regarding maximum downforce. “And everybody felt like they had a winning car and I think the people that did that when it gets hot and you got to run the same downforce or what they think it is.
“When you already ran max at 65 degrees, when it’s 85 you are going to have 200 pounds less downforce and it’s going to be a reality check for a lot of people. It’s going to be hard and it’s going to be degradation and I think managing the tires and managing the car is going to be really important.”
Could this Montoya’s last go around in the month of May?
“I don’t know,” he said. ” I don’t care. Honestly, I thought last year was going to be the last one. Then I got a call from Zak (Brown), ‘You want to do it again?’ Yeah, and that was that. I don’t know. I think you are asking the wrong person.”