Juan Pablo Montoya may not have a full-time seat in IndyCar anymore, but that doesn't mean the two-time Indianapolis 500 winner is done with the sport. Fresh off pinch-hitting in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing for Team Penske in May (and finishing a respectable sixth despite major fuel troubles early on), the 41-year-old Colombian is back in the driver's seat at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week working as a test driver for the new 2018 IndyCar universal body kit.
Unveiled on Monday, the new body sports a cleaner, throwback look, with the busy aero bits and winglets scaled back or moved under the car to provide the same grip without spoiling the car's lines. Also gone: those unslightly rear bumper pods, marking the series' return to true open-wheel racing. There will be two versions, a high-downforce kit for road, street, and short oval courses, and a low-downforce kit for super speedways like Indianapolis. As before, Honda and Chevrolet will be supplying teams with engines.
Ideally, the improvements will allow the cars to race in tighter packs then ever before without getting unsettled by turbulence, which in turn will make the races even more exciting. An IndyCar official told us that the two cars being tested got up to around 219 mph (though he wouldn't say which was faster yet), and each logged a little more than a hundred laps and 250 miles apiece.
Montoya took a break from his seat time in the low-downforce, Chevy-engined Team Penske car to talk to The Drive about why he thinks the new aerokit looks so much better, how it's preparing IndyCar for the future, and whether his son will be joining the family business anytime soon.
The Drive: I know you’ve probably been getting this question all day, but what do you think of the new aerokit overall?
Juan Pablo Montoya: I think it’s great, I think IndyCar did an amazing job overall. I think it’s the right direction. People that have followed IndyCar for many years are excited because it looks like a real IndyCar again. One of the coolest things about IndyCar is the size of the rear tires, and to have them covered [as they were last year], it was like, really? Are you really doing that? So to be able to see the car with those big tires on the back, I think it’s awesome.
TD: And speaking of removing those rear bumper pods, did you feel that the redistribution of weight changed the way the car handled?
JPM: It just makes it better. It makes it more predictable. It just makes it more fun to drive. It’s about making the cars race better – I think the cars are really safe already, so if you can make them race better, it’s definitely a plus. [The aero changes] will be more noticeable when we get it in big packs, where it will make the car more stable. But it’s definitely easier to drive. I think it looks great. I mean, it looks proper.
TD: What are the next test sessions like, and are you enjoying your time as a test pilot?
JPM: We have three more tests that we’re gonna do apart from this. We’re gonna do a road course, a small oval, and a street course at Sebring. We’re gonna try to cover everything. I would rather be a race car driver full time than a test driver [laughs], but it’s fun to get miles on the car. Getting to experience it as it’s developed makes it fun. You know, when you take a break, everyone is waiting for you to see what you’re gonna say, if you like it or if you don’t, so it’s kind of funny.
TD: Do you think this unified aerokit is better for IndyCar overall? Will it draw more manufacturers in?
JPM: Definitely. In IndyCar, the manufacturers [focus] has always been the powerplant—how much power they can produce, how good they are. So to have them confused with the aerokits, I think it wasn’t good for the fans, wasn’t good for anybody. So I think this is definitely in the right direction.
TD: Is it fun being back in Indy after racing there this past spring? I know you didn’t quite have the finish you were hoping for.
JPM: Yeah, it’s fun. We still had a good race. We had a problem at the beginning where we, you know, ran out of gas. So coming from the back again to make it to sixth, it was good. It was really a Honda day, so to be the second best Chevy, it wasn’t so bad. We were headed in the right direction, just a little too late.
TD: Your son is just starting off his racing career in karting. Any chance he’ll make the switch to IndyCar when he’s old enough?
JPM: We’ll see, it’s still early. He loves IndyCar, but he likes both IndyCar and Formula 1, so we’ll see what happens. Time will tell.