2016 Season Review - Juan Pablo Montoya
October 28, 2016
Just as everything fell into place during a successful season in 2015, almost everything that could go wrong did go wrong for Juan Pablo Montoya in 2016.
Still, when he looks back at the year, the veteran racer chooses to focus on the positive moments he enjoyed with Team Penske in the No. 2 Verizon/Devilbiss/PPG/Hawk Chevolet while understanding the fickle nature of racing.
“It was a weird season,” said Montoya, who finished eighth in the final Verizon IndyCar Series standings. “We opened strong with a win and scored points early on, but then we had some struggles. There were times when we were really strong and other times when I felt like we were trying to overcompensate and made a lot of mistakes.”
The 2016 campaign started perfectly for Montoya with a dominating victory driving the No. 2 Verizon Team Penske Dallara/Chevy in the opener at St. Petersburg, Florida, and continued with a series of top-10 finishes at Phoenix International Raceway, the Grand Prix of Long Beach, Barber Motorsports Park and the Indianapolis Grand Prix.
“It started off so well,” explained Montoya. “We opened with a solid win. To be honest, winning at St. Pete came kind of easy. We were really strong. That was a straightforward win. We went to Phoenix and were leading when the right front tire blew out. Then we went to Long Beach and were really quick there, but I ran out of fuel in the Fast Six (qualifying). Everything that could go wrong was going wrong.”
An uncharacteristic early accident in the 100th Indianapolis 500 and the subsequent 33rd-place finish further hurt Montoya’s championship chances. He bounced back with a podium finish in the first of two races in the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit presented by Quicken Loans, but the slump returned the next day with a crash and a 20th-place result. The troubles stayed with Montoya and his Team Penske crew through much of the summer.
“It was a frustrating year because we had a lot of speed,” said Montoya. “In fact, our speed compared with 2015 was even better. We just couldn’t get a break. I made a couple of mistakes that cost us quite a bit, but it’s just that we couldn’t get a break when we needed one. If we made a pit stop early, something would happen. If we stayed out and we didn’t need a caution, one would come anyway. It was always the opposite of what we really needed.”
The weeks of practice and qualifying at Indy were challenging for the No. 2 Verizon team and Montoya, who won the famed race in 2015 in his first open-wheel competition at Indianapolis Motor Speedway since he won the race in the 2000 season.
“Indy was trouble all month,” said Montoya. “We really struggled."
The unexpected finishes continued with a blown engine that ended a positive run at Iowa Speedway, followed by finishes of eighth or higher at Toronto, the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Pocono Raceway, Texas Motor Speedway and Watkins Glen. In the end, Montoya rallied with a third-place effort in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“Sonoma was a good run,” said Montoya. “We were fast in qualifying. It kind of showed what we went through during the year and all the struggles we had all year long. It was nice -- a good race and a good strategy. It was the last race and everybody wanted to put it all together. Everybody worked really hard on that one.”
Montoya career numbers tell of a single season that was a disappointing anomaly. After all, the 41-year-old Colombian has two Indy 500 victories, 13 other victories, 15 pole positions and 26 podium finishes in just six years of North American open-wheel racing. That goes with seven victories in Formula One and two wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
This season, Montoya finished eighth in the IndyCar championship standings, 226 points behind teammate Simon Pagenaud, who won the series title. Not a bad season, Montoya says, just an unusual and often frustrating one.
“In 2015, we couldn’t get it wrong even if we tried,” said Montoya with a laugh. “This year we couldn’t catch a break no matter how hard we tried. We went from getting results pretty easily to wondering why we couldn’t get a break. … When you’ve raced as long as I have, you know that’s the way it works. You just have to be patient with it and let it work itself out. I still want to thank the team and all of our sponsors. It wasn’t the year we expected but in the end, Team Penske still won the championship.”