Montoya Wants 2Nd Indy Win
September 27, 2001 | 12:00 A.M. EST
But then he saw the track and instantly understood the appeal.
“You come out of (turn) No. 2 and then look down at the end of the straightaway, and you don't even see the other end,” he said. “You go, ‘Gee whiz.’ Suddenly you realize what it (appeal) is.”
Now, as Montoya returns to the site of the biggest win of his career, the 2000 Indianapolis 500, he recalls the first time he visited the Brickyard. That first visit wasn’t in a race and there wasn’t 200,000 screaming race fans, but it was no less magical for the Colombian.
“I was here in Indy (at car owner Chip Ganassi's nearby shop), and I didn't have anything to do," he said. "I was told (by the crew) I should go and see the Speedway. They told me it was amazing. So I came out and looked around the museum and then went around in a little bus.
"This is a holy place for motor racing, basically, and people admire it that way. And that's why I think Formula One is going to be successful in America, because it's at the Speedway."
Sixteen months after winning the Indy 500 Montoya finds himself back in Indianapolis in a relatively similar position.
An above-average season but still not one people expected from a driver with such talent. A handful of poles and solid runs in a good car with a great team.
The difference is now Montoya is driving in Formula One, not CART, he isn’t the best driver on the circuit, and his run at Indy will be through the infield as well as well as his first turn on an oval in almost a year. What a difference a year makes.
“I think it's going to be quite interesting actually, you know, getting the banking,” Montoya said. “The pits are a bit different because when we're in the banking we're just starting to build up the speed. You know, you're going 250, 300 clicks, kilometers through there, and it's quick. But the car could take a lot more.
“So, you know, from what I heard, Turn 1 (of the oval, Turn 13 on the road circuit) is not that difficult, flat. It looks quite extreme, but it's not that difficult. I think it's going to be quite good memories, especially on race day with everybody here. I came here last year to watch, and there was a lot of people here, and hopefully this year we get the same crowd.”
With F-1 being the European-based series that it is, it’s easy for David Coulthard and the Schumachers (Ralf and Michael) to claim a home race. In fact, the Schumachers get two, with both the Grand Prix of Germany and the Grand Prix of Europe run in Germany.
As a Colombian-native the closest Montoya comes to his home country is Brazil. For Montoya that’s not good enough and that’s where this weekend’s United States Grand Prix comes in.
“I would think I do have quite a big following in America. It's good to see - you know," he said. "That's been quite good everywhere I've been. There's always been like Colombian flags, and I know a lot of Colombians are coming for this race. This is for me like my home race. I spent the last two years racing here, you know, apart from that Indy is very close for home. My family lives here. So it is like home.”
In just his first year on the F-1 circuit, Montoya has three poles, three podium finishes and a win at the Grand Prix of Italy two weeks ago. That is more than can be said for most drivers that have been on the circuit for years. He is one of five drivers to win a race this season and one of only four drivers to start a race from the pole.
Sure, he’s only fifth in the driver’s standings, 83 points behind champion Michael Schumacher, but it’s safe to say Montoya has taken F-1 by storm. In fact, Montoya said, he has surprised even himself at some races.
“Well, positive surprise is all the poles I've done so far and the win,” he said. “I didn't really expect my first season to win. I think negative is the atmosphere is so different that it really took me a while to get in the groove of it. Because the atmosphere is a lot more tense, you've got to be a lot stronger mentally. I think I consider myself quite strong mentally, and it didn't really affect me. But it took me a while to really focus in the car in what I had to do. It really drives your mind away a little bit.
“Mentally it's a lot stronger. You've got to be a lot stronger than CART because in CART the atmosphere is a lot friendlier. In the car you've got to push the car to its limits, both cars are very physical; but outside, I think outside the car, you see in CART everybody talks to everybody, everybody is friendly. Here you don't even cross a word with anybody. You're there by yourself, and you've got to work with the people around you. I think in a series like this, the team is a very important asset.”
Montoya understands, though, that as good as he is now it’s all still just a learning process.
“You know, every time you're out there you're learning something new,” Montoya said. “So you're always evolving and become a better driver. I wouldn't say every time you're out there you've got to push harder and harder if you want to become better. I couldn't go and say I wasn't pushing before when I was here. When I won the championship here, when I won the Indy 500, I was good at everything. Now you have to do that every week.
“With Formula One, you test so much, you drive so much the cars, everybody does that. To really be in a competitive level, you've got to try to do a better job than the rest. That's the only way to win.”