As the owner of two wins on the trot with Acura Team Penske co-driver Dane Cameron, Juan Pablo Montoya is finding the success, and the groove he’d been searching for, in IMSA’s WeatherTech SportsCar Championship.
The veteran of IndyCar, Formula 1, and NASCAR made the full-time switch to sports cars in 2018 when Penske brought Acura into the DPi category with its ARX-05 prototypes, and after visiting the podium a number of times since his debut, back-to-back victories have the Colombian in a new frame of mind.
After placing fifth in the championship last year, he and Cameron hold second in the standings as IMSA moves into the latter half of the season this weekend at Watkins Glen (Sunday, 9:30 a.m ET on the IMSA and the NBC Sports apps, and 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN). The 1999 CART IndyCar champion and two-time Indy 500 winner is locked in a solid fight for the DPi title and, if the team’s recent fortunes continue, adding another championship is well within the scope of possibilities.
“I think we’ve done a really good job,” he said of Acura Team Penske’s efforts that also have the sister entry for Ricky Taylor and Helio Castroneves in third. “I think the results are overdue. Last year, we led a lot of laps and could never really complete the job and it was really frustrating, so to know that we can actually get it done and remember how we get it done…
“I feel we’re competitive and I feel we’re in a good place. It’s not easy where we stand, but I’m excited for the rest of the season. There’s some good racetracks going for us. Just need to make sure we keep the nose clean and we keep executing.”
Winless in 2018, the duo of JPM and Cameron have been quite effective in their second year together behind the wheel of Acura’s twin-turbo V6-powered prototype. The greatest change in fortunes comes from the teammates working harder on a shared chassis setup that no longer favors one handling preference over the other.
“We found a few things in the setup to benefit me personally probably the most, and I think that made a big difference,” Montoya said. “[Finding] the mid-corner front grip, to be honest. I think that [what] you could call my Achilles heel is the amount of understeer you get in the middle of a corner. And Dane is the opposite. He’s more comfortable with more understeer.
“So we go to a corner where he was getting more and more comfortable and finding more speed [and] my life was starting to get more and more miserable. But everybody in the team, [race engineer Jonathan Duiguid] and all the guys worked really hard and I think we’re in a really good place right now.
“I think we’re solid, we’re strong. I think we both do a really good job. Even from last year I think we were so bummed — I think our strategy and a few things could never really get it executed. This year things seem to be clicking, so I think it’s great.”
With his 44th birthday arriving in September, Montoya could view his current stint with Acura Team Penske in IMSA as the swansong to a long and distinguished career. Fortunately for his fans, retirement in the near future is not a consideration.
“I think [IMSA is] amazing. I love it,” he said. “For me the schedule is very good. It fits really well my needs at this point, with my kids racing, and I’ve got a few people that I look after, but at the same time I still want to drive the car. I still want to kick everybody’s ass when I’m in the car and be quicker than anybody. I really do love it. The cars in my opinion are probably the most fun cars I’ve driven since the Formula 1 cars.”
Outside of the cockpit, Montoya says he would love to step into Formula 1’s race control booth and serve as a guest driver steward. Asked if he could deal with the massive backlash former F1 driver Emanuele Pirro received after penalizing Sebastian Vettel at the Canadian Grand Prix, the cutthroat JPM indicated he would relish the opportunity to drop the hammer when needed.
“I’m surprised they’ve never invited me to do it, honestly,” he admitted. “I really couldn’t care [about driver’s feelings]. If you’re a steward and you care what people think, you’re in trouble. It’s not about pleasing people. It’s about getting the job done and whatever’s right and whatever’s wrong.”