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Times, ‘Tude Changed For Indy-Bound Montoya

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 12 2012

Juan Pablo Montoya was back in Indianapolis this week and happy to be there. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Gregg Ellman)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Juan Pablo Montoya never cracked during May of 2000. Not even close. No matter how many times he was asked, no matter how many different ways he was asked, the young Colombian hot shot with the built-in upper-lip sneer could never be lured into producing a gush about being at historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Then a 24-year-old with obviously ridiculous talent and a huge future awaiting him, Montoya would just shrug and say – either directly or in so many words with that sneer of his – just another race every time he was asked about being part of the greatest motorsports event in the world.

And when Montoya went on to win the 500 on his first and only try, and do it with relative ease, there was as much frustration as jubilation among the Indy traditionalists.

Montoya was back at The Speedway earlier this week. And even though it was just for a test session for the upcoming debut Rolex GRAND-AM Series race which will take place on the IMS infield road course, it was was interesting to hear him say – barely prompted, even – what many had hoped/expected him to say 12 years ago.

“I think it’s going to be cool,” Montoya said.

Times have obviously changed and so too – more obviously – has Montoya. Since Memorial Day weekend

Juan Pablo Montoya and Jamie McMurray will be true teammates on the Indy road course in two weeks. (RacinToday/HHP photo by Erik J. Perel)

of 2000, the native of Bogota has not only established himself as a world class talent, but has also learned the fine art of public relations – something that was optional during his time as a Formula 1 big shot, but mandatory in his current gig as a NASCAR driver.

Still, it was kind of cool to hear him talk about the upcoming sports car race, in which he will be co-driving – with Sprint Cup teammate Jamie McMurray– a BMW-powered Riley Daytona Prototype for Chip Ganassi Racing.

“This is kind of crazy that pretty much everything with four wheels, I’ve been here at Indy,” he said after his test session on Monday at IMS. “It’s pretty exciting. I think Jamie and I have a pretty good chance.”

McMurray has never been be-grudging with his excitement when it comes racing Indy. A Brickyard 400 winner in 2010, has always liked the big track. Revered it, even.

He, too, was part of the special Monday test. Afteward, he continued to praise the track, the decision to put GRAND-AM cars on the track and his decision to be in one of those cars.

“Indy just has so much history behind it,” McMurray said, “and it’s just one of those places where if you’re a NASCAR fan or an INDYCAR fan, or any kind of a racing fan, this is the place you want to get to race at.

“First off, I think it’s really cool that GRAND-AM came here, and that all of the guys in the Rolex Series, whether it’s in the DP cars or the GT cars, get a chance to race here because it’s such a cool track.”

Not that they need it, but McMurray and Montoya – who will be driving a sister car to the  one which defending series champion Ganassi drivers Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas use every time out in the Rolex Series – have secondary motives for driving in the GRAND-AM race.

The hope is that teaming up for the sports car race will improve life and fortunes on their day jobs.

Neither has won a Cup race this year. In fact, neither has a top-five finish as they head this weekend to New Hampshire for race No. 19 of the 36-race schedule. And, with neither having realistic shots of making the Chase, both they and their teams must be in the old thinking-about-next-season mode.

The GRAND-AM pairing could pay a future dividend or two.

“From the team side of it,” McMurray said, “I think this is really good for Juan and I because even though we’re on the same team in the NASCAR series, you’re still competing against each other, where here you’re literally on the same team, so if one of you wins, both of you win.

“I think it’s a really good relationship-builder for us to talk about the car and everything that’s going on, and both be pulling for the same car to win. I think it’s good for our relationship.”

The main plan, of course, is to win – which they had a decent shot at doing earlier this year as they drove a Ganassi DP car in the Daytona 24 when they were partnered with Ganassi IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti and Scott Dixon.

Obviously, winning won’t be easy at IMS, McMurray and Montoya  – who twice (in 2007 and 2008) won the Daytona 24 driving for Ganassi – agreed.

“I’ve never went around Turn 1 wide open before, and the first time, even though you’re going backward, it’s kind of mindboggling to run flat out around there in the Rolex car,” McMurray said after the Monday test. “There are a lot of Gs and a lot of load on your body, and one thing Juan and I were talking about is that all of these turns are right-handed, and my neck got tired in three laps because we’re not used to turning right. I told him to hang on and get prepared because your body’s going to go through something it hasn’t went through in a long time.”

And the mind seems to be in a much more agreeable place for Montoya than it was back in 2000.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Thursday, July 12 2012
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