By on January 31, 2018

Juan Pablo Montoya

I’m not ashamed to admit it — I’ve got a total mancrush on Juan Pablo Montoya, and if you care even a little bit about racing, you should too. Not only does JPM have the most impressive and diverse resume of any modern day racer (7 wins in Formula One, including the Monaco GP, multiple wins in the Indy 500 and 24 Hours of Daytona, multiple NASCAR road course wins), but the way he’s gone about it has been exactly the way all of us weekend racing warriors wish we could do it.

He’s been just as likely to win a race as he has been to give the chrome horn to a competitor who crossed him. If Montoya were on your bumper in an Oldsmobile Alero, you’d be nervous that he’d either fly by you or put you into the wall. My friend Sam Smith says that he’s one of the last, true, IDGAF dudes in racing, and a unique talent, and he’s right.

I had the chance to flag JPM down for a few minutes in the media center at the Rolex 24 this weekend (more on that experience tomorrow), where he was the anchor driver for the #6 Acura ARX-05 Daytona Prototype car. I don’t often find myself nervous around another grown man, but I was a bit starstruck for this conversation. Apologies in advance that it kinda goes everywhere. (Disclosure — Acura invited me to the Rolex 24 for the weekend, and provided flights, hotels, meals, and tickets to the race.)

Bark: What’s your experience with Acura/Team Penske been like so far?

Juan Pablo Montoya: It’s been unbelievable. From Day one, I think the relationship has been amazing. I think all the engineers at HPD, I think they’re very excited about the program, excited about being involved with Roger. For me personally, I’m just very proud of being part of the program. To be able to deliver for them, it’s incredible.

Bark: So how did Juan Pablo Montoya end up in this prototype car with Penske?

JPM: There were some mutual talks when we finished with IndyCar. They said that there was an opportunity there if I wanted it. I met with Jon Ikeda (VP/GM of the Acura brand) and I was welcomed onto the team. It was really cool.

B: How many races are you planning to run with them this season?

JPM: The whole season. The season is ten races, so hopefully we can win a lot of them.

B: What plans do you have other than driving with Acura this season?

JPM: That’s it, you know? We’re running with Acura the whole year. There may be an opportunity to do a race in Brazil, if they let me, and I’m doing the Race of Champions.

B: I wanted to talk to you about the RoC. I got to drive one of those cars recently, and they were a super handful for an amateur like me. What was that experience like driving those cars down in Miami?

JPM: It was a lot of fun. To tell you the truth, the real reason I did that was because my wife wanted me to. My wife heard about the race and she wanted to go.

B: Right, because you make your home in Miami, yes?

JPM: Yeah, we live there, so with it being in Miami, I didn’t have an excuse NOT to go (laughs), so I told her, fine, I’ll do it. And it was a really nice experience, going up against a lot of guys that we’ve raced with before. Most of us are friends, so that makes it fun.

B: So then you’re planning to go to Riyadh?

JPM: Yeah, we’re going on Tuesday.

B: That’s a hell of a turnaround.

JPM: I know!

B: So, of everything you’ve driven, because you’ve obviously had this long, storied career…

JPM: Yep.

B: …what did you find the most challenging for you to transition into driving, and what’s been the most natural?

JPM: Um, probably the NASCAR.

B: With Ganassi.

JPM: Yeah. The NASCAR, they’re so big and so heavy, and when you’re not used to having a platform like that, it can make it really tough.

B: Let me interrupt your answer for a second. With everything that happened in NASCAR, do you feel like you had the best possible opportunity to succeed there?

JPM: I mean, I can’t complain. I know Chip did everything he could to have competitive cars, In 2009 and 2010, we had competitive cars.

B: Yeah, very competitive.

JPM: We made the Chase, we had a couple of wins, had a chance at some more wins, so, you know, I can’t complain. And after that, you know, a lot of things changed on the team, a lot of personnel changed on the team. From then on, for me, it went down hill like crazy. Everybody that blamed me for it ended up getting fired, you know, and then they hired different people, so I think the team is running a little better now. It’s tough, because NASCAR success goes in cycles. When I stopped, I realized that there’s more to life than running around every week.

B: Well, it’s a hell of a schedule, right?

JPM: Yeah, it’s too hard, way too hard. But it was a good opportunity to get involved with Team Penske (JPM ran two races for Penske in 2014 — Bark), which got me back into IndyCar. I won Indy again, had a real shot at a championship. So, you know, no complaints.

B: So with that gap between your first Indy win and your second Indy win, which was the biggest in history, what did that mean for you to get the chance to hold that trophy again?

JPM: For me, winning it for Roger was really special because Roger really believed in me and gave me that opportunity to race for him, to be in the Indy 500 again, and for it to be the last one he’s won, yeah, that was really special.

B: Last question for you—I’m a father myself, so it’s cool for me to see how proud you are of your son’s karting successes. What’s that been like, watching him get started in that?

JPM: Oh, it’s fun! I’m really involved with it. I always want the best performance for him. It’s been exciting.

B: Thanks for your time, Juan, and best of luck in the race.

JPM: Thanks. Take care!

(Photo: Bark M./The Truth About Cars)

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