Hot Montoya eager to reward Penske in Dual in Detroit

David Goricki
The Detroit News

Juan Pablo Montoya feels proud to own the title of Indianapolis 500 champion heading into this weekend's IndyCar Chevrolet Dual in Detroit on Belle Isle while driving for Roger Penske.

"Roger is a guy who really cares about the Indy 500 and so going to Detroit as the Indy 500 champion is a big deal and to be doing it with Roger makes it very special," Montoya said in a phone interview Monday afternoon, less than 24 hours after he passed his Team Penske teammate Will Power with a handful of laps left to win his second Indy 500, his first since 2000.

"Detroit's a big deal for us. It's Roger's home race and Chevy's home race so it's a very important deal to run well."

Chevrolet is the primary sponsor for the IndyCar series' lone doubleheader.

And, the 39-year-old Montoya will be the driver to beat on Belle Isle. He has enjoyed success this season while driving with Chevy power, earning four podium spots (top-three finishes) in the six races, including two victories.

The Indy 500 is the lone race to have double points because of its importance as the Super Bowl of the series and Montoya's win over Power was a difference of 20 points (101-81) between the drivers.

However, double points will be available this weekend on Belle Isle with the doubleheader, 70-lap races run on consecutive days Saturday and Sunday.

"This two weeks is make or break for the year as far as going for the championship and I think it's pretty cool," said Montoya, who has a 25-point lead (272-247) over Power. Target/Chip Ganassi driver Scott Dixon is third (211), followed by Team Penske's Helio Castroneves (206). All four drivers compete with Chevy power. Honda's top driver is Graham Rahal (Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan), who is fifth at 204.

The last 15 laps Sunday were make-or-break for who was going to be crowned as Indy 500 champ with the right to drink the milk, finding Montoya battling Power and 2013 series champion Dixon. Montoya threw his right fist in the air several times after the win. He became the 11th different driver to win the 500 for Penske, who has 16 Indy 500 victories.

"It was huge to be able to run that good, be that competitive and to fight for the win with my teammate was really special," said Montoya, who had to come back from 30th after a problem in the pits early in the race.

The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has been Montoya's personal playground. He won the first time he competed in the 500 in 2000 with Ganassi — then after six years in Formula One (2001-06) and seven more in NASCAR (07-13) — he returned to the Brickyard for the 500 last year when Penske came calling and finished fifth.

So, now it's on to Detroit … but not before Montoya continues his press tour, which started at 7 a.m. Monday with phone interviews.

"When's your last interview?" Montoya was asked. "About four days. I have more today, then I travel to New York, then Dallas and then Detroit. I really don't know when and with who. I don't want to stress out."

While it looks like Montoya has struggled on Belle Isle, he says that hasn't been the case at all. He finished 17th in 1999 and 18th in 2000, then 12th and 13th in last year's doubleheader.

"I won the pole one year and started second in the other," Montoya said of his starts on Belle Isle in 1999 and 2000. "I led the most laps of both races and they (team personnel) made bad calls on strategy and that's why I lost the races more than anything else."

Last year, Montoya finished 12th in Race 1 and 13th in Race 2, but he was just trying to get settled in during his first year back in the series. He had a strong second half to the season to finish fourth in points.

"When I came back last year the beginning of the season was hard and the second part was really good," he said. "In the offseason we put in a lot of work to make our car drive better and it's been really good this year.

"I'm looking forward to Detroit. It's such a beautiful setting for a race. It's a first-class race. They've made better straights and better braking zones, everything for better racing."

The 2.3-mile road course on Belle Isle certainly was a favorite last season for Power and Castroneves. Power won Race 1 and Castroneves, Race 2, with Power going on to win the series championship.

Chevrolet Detroit Belle Isle Grand Prix

What: Two IndyCar Grand Prix races on Belle Isle Park's 2.3-mile road course

When: Friday-Sunday


Notable: The IndyCar series' lone doubleheader, 70-lap races run on consecutive days, 3:30 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: Go to Range from $35 (single-day general admission), $65 (two-day general admission) to three-day super ticket at $175.