2015 INDYCAR Driver Review - Juan Pablo Montoya

December 2, 2015

Heading into the 2015 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Juan Pablo Montoya made no bones about the fact that he expected his team to be much improved over its 2014 campaign, his first back in the series since the year 2000.

Clearly, Montoya knew what he was talking about.

While he was able to win a race and finish inside the top five in the series standings in 2014, Montoya and the No. 2 Verizon/PPG/Hawk Performance Chevrolet team struggled at times, particularly on the street circuits. That all changed this past season as he was the model of consistency, winning two races – including the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500 – and emerging as a top title contender all the way through the final race of the season at Sonoma Raceway.

The first race of the season on the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., provided the first glimpse of the improvement made by the No. 2 team. After starting 18th and finishing 15th in the season-opening race of the 2014 Verizon IndyCar Series season, Montoya captured the checkered flag after qualifying in the fourth position this season. It marked his 13th career series win and his second as a member of Team Penske.

The victory at St. Pete gave Montoya the lead in the series standings for the first time since his 1999 championship-winning season, after which he left for winning seasons in Formula 1 and NASCAR. He followed the St. Pete win up with consecutive top-five finishes to establish himself as a leading candidate for the 2015 championship.

A 24th-place finish at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., in April would prove to be the first of only three finishes outside the top 10 for the season for Montoya. He quickly got back on track at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway with a third-place finish in the Grand Prix of Indianapolis, followed by his second-career win – and Team Penske’s record 16th victory – in the biggest race of the season, the Indianapolis 500.

Following Indianapolis, Montoya reeled off six more top-10 finishes to continue to hold down the lead in the standings through the summer months and into the final stretch of the season.

Perhaps the most damaging race to Montoya’s title chances came at Iowa Speedway in July. After qualifying his Chevrolet in the third position, a suspension failure sent Montoya into the outside wall in a hard collision on the race’s ninth lap. The resulting 24th-place finish still allowed him to keep the points lead, but the significant margin he enjoyed over the drivers chasing him in the standings took a big hit. An ill-timed caution flag in the next event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course turned what looked to be a win for the No. 2 team into an 11th-place finish, but Montoya followed that up with a third-place run at Pocono Raceway to setup a six-driver showdown at Sonoma for the Verizon IndyCar Series title.

Montoya, teammates Will Power and Helio Castroneves, Scott Dixon, Josef Newgarden and Graham Rahal all entered the season finale with a shot at the championship. Power started the race from the pole position with Montoya in a comfortable fifth-place on the starting grid. Unfortunately, on lap 38 of the race, Montoya and Power made contact on a race restart following pit stops by both drivers. The incident left both needing to visit pit road for repairs and effectively ending their title hopes, although Montoya made a valiant effort to move through the field and ultimately needed only one more position to clinch the title.

Despite missing out on his second Verizon IndyCar Series championship, Montoya proved again why he is considered one of the most versatile and talented drivers in motorsports history. After 13 years away from the Indy Car discipline, he quickly rounded himself back into championship form.

“The race at Sonoma was not fun, no one wants to end the season like that,” said Montoya. “Will and I quickly put it behind us, though. Roger (Penske) is a big believer in looking forward and that is what we are going to do. As much as this No. 2 Verizon/PPG/Hawk Performance team improved from 2014, I believe we still have areas where we can be better. And we will be even better next season and that is exciting.”