IndyCar drivers would welcome back J.P. Montoya
If Juan Pablo Montoya returns to IndyCar next year, he’ll get a
warm welcome from the drivers he’ll have to beat.
Michael Andretti is looking for sponsors for an IndyCar ride for
Montoya, who is leaving Chip Ganassi’s NASCAR team. Montoya says he
hasn’t decided where he’s going next, but several drivers at Sonoma
Raceway think he belongs back in American open-wheel racing, which
left in 2001 for Formula One, followed by an underwhelming foray
”It would be nice to see him with a smile on his face,” said
Dario Franchitti, a longtime teammate who drives for Ganassi’s
Montoya spent the past seven years in NASCAR, winning just twice
in 239 starts with Ganassi teams. Yet the 37-year-old Colombian
still is widely considered an elite driving talent, and he had his
best years in open-wheel racing.
Franchitti has been racing against Montoya since even before
their days in CART more than a decade ago, and the Scot has teamed
with Montoya at the Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona.
”I think it would be great for the series, and I think it would
be great for Juan Pablo, if he wants to do it,” said Franchitti,
who’s on the pole for Sunday’s IndyCar race in Northern California
”I know how good a driver he is,” Franchitti added. ”I’d like
to think, coming back here, he would get his motivation back and
put a smile on his face. I would love to see it happen. He’s
definitely got the hunger, and I think he’s at the stage of his
life and his career that he’s only going to do something that he
wants and he can enjoy.”
That something just might be IndyCar, which could use his talent
and star power – and Andretti is trying to make it happen for his
former opponent. Ryan Hunter-Reay would likely be Montoya’s
teammate at Andretti Autosport, if sponsors can be found.
”I think having Montoya in the series, or in the team, would be
good,” Hunter-Reay said. ”I’m open to it. I haven’t heard
anything about it, (but) I think he’d be great for the series. He’s
one of the top talents in the world, and it would be great to race
Montoya is exploring his options as a free agent, and they
aren’t limited to IndyCar.
Although there aren’t many quality NASCAR seats currently
available, a spot at Furniture Row Racing will open up if Kurt
Busch moves to Stewart-Haas Racing, which is eagerly courting him.
Montoya could be a candidate to replace Busch.
While he might be able to land another NASCAR ride, Montoya
recently acknowledged that his ”heart has always been in open
wheel” even during his NASCAR career.
Franchitti and fellow Ganassi driver Scott Dixon are confident
Montoya still has the passion necessary to win championships,
particularly behind the wheels of his favorite cars.
”I think you kind of cross that line at some point in your
life, and you wake up and you just can’t be bothered,” Dixon said.
”You can definitely see that’s not what’s happening with Juan. I
would definitely welcome it. I’ve been teammates with him for
seven, eight years now. He’s a good friend and a good person, and
if he does decide to make that move, we would welcome him back with
Montoya won 11 races in CART for Ganassi in 1999 and 2000,
including the Indianapolis 500 in his second year.
Andretti is still waiting to finalize its lineup while figuring
out the future of James Hinchcliffe, the breakout three-time
IndyCar winner this season. Andretti must lock down Hinchcliffe’s
sponsorship from GoDaddy before deciding its future – and
Hinchcliffe is currently able to negotiate with other teams.
But Andretti has said he could even run five cars next season if
Hinchcliffe returns and he finds sponsorship for Montoya. Although
Montoya could be an immediate title contender in IndyCar with the
right team and backing, his fellow drivers are eager to see what he
could do in optimal conditions.
”I get to see what he’s capable of at Daytona 24 Hours every
year,” Franchitti said. ”I know how good he is, so it would be
great to see him back.”