Juan Pablo Montoya's Methodical Approach to IndyCar
IndyCar - Team Penske
The Colombian wasted little time after closing the chapter on his NASCAR career in November, joining Team Penske for tests in Florida and California, sampling road courses at Sebring and Sonoma Raceway as well as the Auto Club Speedway oval.
Like A.J. Allmendinger, who also left open-wheel at the end of 2006 for a career in NASCAR and made his Indy car return with Penske, Montoya's found that getting back to a place where he's in a natural rhythm – acting instead of reacting behind the wheel – could take longer than expected.
It's left him wondering whether he should try to recapture the mindset he used to win the 1999 CART championship, or treat his re-introduction to Indy cars as a brand-new experience.
"It's hard to know what's the right approach," Montoya told RACER. "I think people plan too much. I don't plan enough, I guess. I just do it. I'm more of a doer than a planner. To be honest, I am now paying a lot of attention to: How am I doing things? I was very lucky last time the way I did things [in CART] because it never really bit me back. I got away with a lot of things. A lot of close calls and risks that went my way.
"With years of experience you learn that not always it's going to be that way. I am paying a lot of attention to what (Penske teammate) Will Power and others are doing. I'm paying pretty close attention, I would say, to making sure that I do the right thing. Because if you don't do the right thing, you might screw yourself more than you think, and I'm not trying to figure it all out myself with Team Penske. That's different than what I would have done before."
Montoya has been a studious teammate, constantly inquiring about setup changes and handling observations with Power and Helio Castroneves once he climbs from the car. The regular sight of JPM leaning into the cockpit of Castroneves' No. 3 Chevy and Power's No. 12 Chevy to solicit feedback has been a key indicator of how engaged he is in his open-wheel comeback, and thanks to that extra effort, most of Montoya's rivals expect the 38-year-old to vie for the championship this year.
Admittedly, there's been a disparity between those expectations and Montoya's pace in testing; he was near the bottom of the time sheets at Sonoma last week, but he says worrying about lap times is the wrong approach for this stage of his learning curve.
"I'm trying to do things in stages," he explained. "If I got up in the morning trying to prove how much I learned already and on lap 10 I threw the car off and crashed, I really end up being behind by not running. So I go out and do my thing, get comfortable, get to know the car better. See what the other guys are doing. OK, they're doing this here, let's do that here and see what happens. And if it works, then you try a little more.
"But I'm not trying to light the world on fire yet, put it this way. I think that's the best way of saying it. I'm being very self-conscious about how I'm doing things. Give myself time, give myself room and everything. I know some people might want to see me going for P1, but these test days are really valuable for me and I have to treat them the right way. I'm being methodical about this process to get ready for the season."
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