Every driver dreams of winning the big race. For Formula One drivers, the wild rabbit is Monaco. Sportscar aces live for the 24 Hours of Le Mans. For those in NASCAR it is the Daytona 500. The Indianapolis 500 is the crown jewel that drivers from around the world have been chasing for more than a century. Many drivers choose their path and set their sights on one goal. Very few have accomplished what Juan Montoya has in his career.
When it comes to the Triple Crown of motorsport, only Graham Hill has been able to achieve it. Winning the three most prestigious races in the world requires an incredible amount of talent, preparation, and luck. Montoya and Fernando Alonso are close, having each won two of the three races. Alonso tried his hand at Indy with McLaren in three of the last four years. Now it is Montoya’s turn.
Montoya dominated in his first Indy 500 race in 2000. He led 167 laps, becoming the first rookie winner since the aforementioned Hill in 1966. Fast forward 15 years later and Montoya was back in victory lane at Indianapolis. It is the longest stretch between race wins in Indianapolis 500 history. The legendary driver won with the two powerhouse teams, Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Now, he seeks his third bottle of milk with a team he drove for in Formula One.
Montoya has led laps in all four Indy 500 races that he has finished. That trend could continue this month, as the Colombian driver was third-fastest in the Open Test at IMS last month. Still, he admitted that there are many challenges that lie ahead.
“Every run you do, you change something,” Montoya said. “You don’t keep the same car, keep doing things. You’re always trying to improve the feeling, improve the car to maybe be more consistent in clean air, more consistent in the draft, things like that. As you go through those things, there’s some runs that you go out there and you’re just in the way, and you hate it.”
“I said like three times today, ‘Hell, I’m not doing this!’ Actually, the word wasn’t ‘hell’ but I’m using the polite word. I said, ‘I’m not doing this,’ and I bailed. One of them actually bailed and really scared the hell out of me in Turns 3 and 4. I lifted and I didn’t even do Turn 1. I went in the deceleration lane.”
Montoya has won races in IndyCar, CART, Formula One, NASCAR Cup, NASCAR Xfinity, Grand-Am Sportscars, and Weathertech Sportscars. His busy schedule has him competing in three different forms of racing this year with three different teams. Although he has seemingly won in everything he has done, the 45-year old still has the desire and the motivation to chase a third victory at Indy.
The competition is as tough as it has ever been but having veteran engineer Craig Hampson alongside the two-time winner will make them a formidable duo on race day. “Hampson is really, really good and really good here, and I think I’m decent here,” Montoya said in an interview with Curt Cavin. “Honestly, you look at Helio, you look at myself, we’ve got a shot at winning this race. We can.” Experience at Indianapolis is invaluable.
McLaren has won the Indy 500 twice, in 1974 and 1976 with Johnny Rutherford. Ironically enough, Rutherford himself is a three-time winner. Montoya would become the 11th driver to win the race at least three times. He would also join Rick Mears and Bobby Unser as the only drivers to win in three different decades.
Ten years ago, it was Dan Wheldon that took an orange and white one-off entry to victory lane at Indianapolis. That finish may be impossible to beat, but the Arrow McLaren SP team can take comfort in knowing that they have the right driver for the job.
Practice for the 105th running of the Indianapolis 500 continues on Wednesday from Noon until 6 PM.