Juan Pablo Montoya (IndyCar photo)
Tim, today’s announcement took a few people by surprise. Can you talk about how the opportunity to bring Juan to the team came about and what will he will bring to Team Penske starting next season?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, thanks. First of all I’d like to say thanks to everybody that actually hopped on this call because I know it’s probably not the most convent thing for you after being in Chicago late last night but the timing was such that we needed to do this today so that we could get on with the rest of it. Anyway, to your question, on behalf of Roger (Penske), I think that it’s important to note that he’s not able to join the call today, but obviously there will be an opportunity with him at some point. Really, I guess there wasn’t a lot of discussion about it because it all came together pretty quick.
I think Juan and I actually ran into each other on the grid in Michigan. And you know, it was as simple as, “Hey, I heard obviously you’re not with 42 (team), what are you up to?” He said, “Not sure.” And I said, “We ought to put you in that IndyCar sometime.” And he said, “Let’s talk about it.”
From then on, it was kind of casual conversation; it turned into the real deal. That’s really how we started and how we ended up here today.
Juan, can you talk about the opportunity to join the team and why this was the right move for you at this point in your career?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, first of all, thanks to everybody. I’m really excited. If you really dream of any ideal position for a driver, and you could say, you could race for Penske, I think that would be No. 1. And you know when I heard and it was announced that I wasn’t going to be in the 42 car next year, my No. 1 choice was going to be in a winning car. I really wanted to be in a winning car.
As Tim said, when this opportunity came around, you know, you didn’t even have to think about it. It was something that it was a great opportunity. Having Helio and Will as teammates, two great guys, guys that one is leading the championship and the other guy has so much speed and so much potential that between them, I think they can help me a lot get up to speed. You have to remember, I’ve been out of the open-wheel for a while, so I’m going to have to get up to speed with everything again but I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Could you give details, is there any sponsorship in place for this ride yet?
TIM CINDRIC: That’s a good question. I think we are asking ourselves that same question. The approach that we took, because obviously it was a pretty short time frame once it got to the point where it was something that really looked like we could put it together, it really came down to Roger’s commitment to the sport and Roger’s commitment to winning, and the approach that we have taken, really, is let’s put the competitive piece in play first, and then hopefully we can sort the rest of it out. And I guess that’s one of the advantages we all have working for Roger is his commitment to winning comes before everything else. You know, the answer to your question is, no, we don’t have even one sponsor for one race as we sit here today, but, you know, I’m confident that will change as things go along.
Juan, you mentioned it might take you a while to get up to speed in open-wheel. What sort of goals or objectives are you setting for 2014? Do you have a race you feel you need to be competitive by? Do think you can go to Indy and win? Talk about how quickly you think you’ll come up to speed.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: To be honest with you, the oval side I’m not too worried about it. I’m not worried at all to be honest with you. I think having the seven years of NASCAR and then my open-wheel experience before that, I think I’m pretty excited about going to the ovals. I know we don’t go to a lot, but you know, the one you want to win, it’s an oval. You want to win the Indy 500. I’m excited about that. I have the opportunity to be in the car at Indy and I think with Penske it is going to be huge.
And I think the other one is going to be a process. I normally pick up things really quick; all my career I have. As I said before, having Will and Helio as teammates helping me out is going to really help me get up to speed. I’m going to have to learn a lot again, but I’m up to the challenge that is the No. 1 thing.
Have you talked to Chip Ganassi about this, and if you haven’t, what do you expect the conversation to be like?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I tried to call him this morning to tell him about it, and actually we texted because he was in Europe. I feel like he was very excited for me. Something that we have with Chip is that we are very good friends. We have a lot of respect for each other.
As he had to make a decision this year to go a different direction, I had to do the same thing. And I have a great opportunity and a great chance with Team Penske, and you know, we are going to be competitors and I’m looking forward to the challenge.
Did you have any offers in NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yes.
I guess you don’t want to elaborate.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. (Laughing). I had a lot of opportunities, not only in NASCAR, but in open-wheel, different things. But when you look at everything, I said from my first media availability when I became a free agent, I said, I want a winning car. And they don’t come any better than Penske Racing.
Any chance of running Fontana in October since it’s the last major oval before Indy?
TIM CINDRIC: From my perspective, yeah, I’d love to run him in Fontana, but something tells me Chip’s probably not going to let that happen (laughter). We already talked about the fact that he’s got to stay focused and the commitments that he has on the 42 car there. We’re certainly not going to get in the way of any of that, and there’s a seat for him here as soon as he’s able to take it. But no, there’s no plans for that as we sit here.
What’s going to be your biggest challenge transitioning back to the IndyCars, as far as the driving and/or conditioning goes?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The conditioning is a big part of it. You know, since the moment I became a free agent, I wanted the opportunity in open-wheel and I’ve been training really hard. I know I have a long way to go to where I want to be. I know what it takes to be in the shape that you need to be in to win and be a champion. So I’m working toward that goal, and the good thing is that we’ve got a lot of time until the first race, so I’ve got a lot of time to prepare myself physically and mentally for it.
Juan, could elaborate a little bit, did it just come down to, as you said, a winning car, or was there a part of you that had to decide between open-wheel and NASCAR and what was the decision process?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I feel like in NASCAR, that I’m to the point that if I have the right opportunity even this year, if the car has the speed, we have shown that we can compete for wins. But I mean, it came down to wanting to race for Roger. In a way, it’s always been one of my dreams to be able to be part of this organization. And being here, it’s unbelievable. I’m just so excited, I can’t believe. I’m like a five-year-old kid right now.
Tim, you’ve had AJ Allmendinger in the third car this year, and he had a number of test days before his first outing, and although he was fast, he seemed to lack the split tenths of a second needed to really be competitive. Are there any takeaway lessons you have from running AJ this year, as a recent NASCAR convert, that you might apply when it’s time to get Juan in the car and up to speed, as well?
TIM CINDRIC: I think when you look at the AJ situation, it’s a little bit different because we were not sitting here in September, you know, trying to prepare AJ to get ready for the season. I can’t recall off the top of my head when all that came about, but he didn’t have the opportunity to start with the team and start fresh from the season. And really, our focus with AJ was to prepare him for Indianapolis, because that’s really what we announced was that he was going to go run the Indy 500 and that anything else that we did with AJ was really in preparation for running Indy.
So I feel like, you know, based on how he ran at Indy, and how well he got up to speed, I felt like our main task of having him prepare to win that race, I think we were successful. Obviously we didn’t win the race. We weren’t ready for the seatbelt coming off. But if that doesn’t happen, I think it’s a different story there, at least he’s got a much better shot than he had there.
So everything else was really just in preparation for that, and the focus wasn’t on trying to win Barber or trying to win Long Beach as much as it was we make sure we get our experience right and make sure we’re prepared. So I agree, for those races, he probably wasn’t as well prepared as he could be, but I’m confident that that will be different this year.
While he’s 37 and while he had a magnificent open-wheel career, why is a 37-year-old, in your opinion, able to come back after so many years away from open-wheel and run against these young kids? And also, Juan, any regrets in the fact that you spent seven years in NASCAR and perhaps didn’t live up to the potential that you came in with?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, I think just to answer my part of the question, I look at Helio, I look at Dario (Franchitti); I look at the fact that Juan has been a winner in everything he’s been in, and I think that what convinced us was really, you know, his overall dedication to this program. We didn’t have to drag him along and we didn’t have to beg him. We didn’t have to convince him that open-wheel or Indy was anything different than NASCAR or any of those discussions. It was for him more about, “I want to drive for you guys and I want to try and figure out how to win for you guys,” and that’s really what we’re looking for.
You know, the age and all the rest of it, I think you can make arguments both ways. I look and Helio is sitting there leading the points, and he’s not a young pup, either. But I think that time will tell for how all that plays out. The bottom line for us is that Juan has been a winner.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: For me personally, you can’t say that I don’t feel like I wasted seven years in NASCAR. I think it’s been a great experience for me. It made me a lot better driver. I learned things that I think if I would have stayed in open-wheel I would never have learned. You become a lot smarter driver. I mean, we didn’t have the success we wanted, but we did win races; we made the Chase. If you look over the Ganassi history, the only driver that’s ever made the Chase for that team, it’s me. So, do I want more success? Yeah, of course I want it, and the reason we are here today is because I want more success. I want to win races, and I know that it’s going to be a an uphill battle mentally, physically, and learning everything again. But I have no doubt in my mind that I can do it.
How seriously did you consider the Furniture Row offer, or was it just the allure of Penske just make it pretty easy decision?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: With Furniture Row, we made some progress there and I went and visited their shop. It’s a small shop but they really have all the tools to get the job done and they showed it this year with the car making the Chase and everything. It comes down to the same thing: Winning. They are a very good team, but they are there, and I’ve been there, and from there to win, it’s a long step. They are giving me here at Penske all the tools to be able to get the job done, and I think, again, having Will and having Helio as teammates it’s going to be for my benefit and I hope that I can bring a lot to the table to help them as well.
Tim, would there be any consideration in bringing Juan in for any NASCAR races, particularly Daytona, the road courses or the Brickyard?
TIM CINDRIC: I’ve learned in this business never to say no; never to say never. We certainly haven’t had any of those discussions, but just like with all of our drivers, if there’s something that makes sense out there, we certainly wouldn’t close the door on it. But certainly, his focus will be on IndyCar racing with us.
Many people around the world will be watching with excitement and interest. You talked about your age and conditioning and all that’s going to be required to re-adjust to IndyCar racing and so forth. But let me just be a little rude and put it in the words of your rudest fans, Juan, who say that you are too old and too fat to race and win in IndyCars. Again, you had touched on it, but what do you say to people that say that to you?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Part of them are right, and the difference between rude and being realistic is when you’re realistic, you work on it, and I know what I need to do. I’ve been there before and I can do it and I already started now.
Even before I agreed to make this deal, I was working on it. My goal has been to be in a winning car and to be in a winning car anywhere you have to be ready. Let’s put it this way, when we get to St. Pete (season opener next spring), then we’ll talk.
For your career in NASCAR and IndyCar, you’ve been in red cars with the mindset against the Penske cars. How much of a mental shift will it be when you go against your old team?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: It’s exciting. I mean, if you think about it, I lived that before in Formula 1 between Williams and McLaren, and that was fun. Honestly, when I raced the IndyCars, the guys to beat you were looking where the Penskes are, and to be driving one of those, it’s fun. I’m really excited. But the No. 1 thing is the mental preparation. We know how we need to do this, and I think here with everybody at Team Penske, we can work together to get to that goal.
I know you said you have a great relationship with Chip, but is this going to be awkward at all, like at the end of this season? I know sometimes you tweet about your support of the Ganassi IndyCar drivers. Are you now going to be rooting for the Penske IndyCar drivers going down the stretch here at IndyCar while you’re still driving for Chip and NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I think I’m going to have a little white flag I’m going to be very neutral there. For one side, I’m still committed with Chip and the NASCAR program for the next nine races. We all are working very hard to get that oval win for the end of the year and keep running as good as we can; get a couple poles and do whatever we can to the end of the year. I mean, this is something that in my time off I’m going to focus on; I mean, do all the training and do everything necessary to get ready for next year. But I think it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be like mixed emotions watching the last few IndyCar races.
You’ll be returning to open-wheel next year and getting to play with some of your old friends like Franchitti, (Tony) Kanaan, etc. Have you had a chance to speak with some of them and get a feel for their interest in revisiting the CART battles from a decade or so ago?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No, they told me to keep it quiet. I think I had signs on my forehead coming out trying not to say anything. You know, I’m definitely going to talk to Dario and Scott (Dixon), as well as Tony. It was funny, because the other day, I put out a Tweet that I was in the gym, and Kanaan responded, “Oh, training for IndyCars” or something. No, actually Marino Franchitti put “IndyCars?” And then Kanaan responded to that and said, “Watch your shoulders, the steering is really heavy.”
You are a driver with credentials that with the work you’ve put in, could do the double over Memorial Day weekend the Indy 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. Would you like to have a crack at that?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Right now we are focusing on the IndyCar program for next year, and as Tim said, if something comes up and something makes sense that we can work, we’ll do it. But I’ve really got to focus in on what I’m going to do next year. I don’t want to be too distracted. We didn’t come here to play. We came here to get the job done and that’s what we want to do.