Juan Pablo Montoya is arguably one of Formula 1’s favourite sons of the modern era, despite only 94 starts he did manage seven grand prix victories and at the same time captured the hearts of motor racing millions of fans including ours at GrandPrix247.
Montoya’s nomadic motor racing career went full circle when he returned to Victory Lane at the Brickyard on Sunday, 15 well-travelled years after the Colombian won his first Indianapolis 500.
Much has changed since a brash 24-year-old arrived at the sprawling oval in 2000 and won the Indy 500 in his debut.
“For me, I think ’99, 2000 was the start of my career,” said the graying racer who shared Sunday’s victory with his wife Connie and three children. “I was really young. It was just the start of it. We came here, had a really good car, we dominated. This one, when you have to work for it that hard, it’s exciting.”
The 15 years between victories and the contrasting way they unfolded revealed Montoya’s evolution as a driver. In his 2000 win, he dominated, leading 167 laps. On Sunday, he led just nine, the third fewest by a winner.
“It’s just experience,” shrugged Montoya. “You’re older, you’re wiser, you understand where the races are won, where they’re lost.”
Aggressive on the track, prickly off it, Montoya has put his cars in the winner’s circles wherever he has gone from Formula One and the Monaco Grand Prix to NASCAR and Sonoma.
He arrived on the North American racing scene in 1999 in spectacular fashion, winning seven races to become the youngest ever CART champion.
The next year he won three times while jumping to the rival Indy Racing League (now IndyCar) for a shot at the Indy 500 and took America’s biggest race.
Having caught the eye of Formula 1, Montoya would spend six seasons at the pinnacle of the sport with Williams and McLaren, collecting seven wins and 30 podiums. His final F1 victory coming at 2005 Brazilian Grand Prix.
After wearing out his F1 welcome, Montoya’s career took a dramatic turn when he moved to NASCAR where he was twice a winner on the stock car circuit.
Needing to feed his hunger for wins, Montoya returned to IndyCar last year after being offered the chance to join the sport’s most successful team.
Ready to celebrate his 40th birthday in September and nearing the end of the racing road, Montoya hopes Penske is team where he can put down permanent roots.
“I told Roger, as long as you want me, I’ll be here,” said Montoya. “He has a passion of winning and being the best out of everything he does. For me I’ve been over the moon here.”