Juan Pablo Montoya (IndyCar photo)
Tim, today's announcement took a few people by surprise. Can you talk about how the opportunity to bring Juan to the team came about and what will he will bring to Team Penske starting next season?
TIM CINDRIC: Yeah, thanks. First of all I'd like to say thanks to everybody that actually hopped on this call because I know it's probably not the most convent thing for you after being in Chicago late last night but the timing was such that we needed to do this today so that we could get on with the rest of it. Anyway, to your question, on behalf of Roger (Penske), I think that it's important to note that he's not able to join the call today, but obviously there will be an opportunity with him at some point. Really, I guess there wasn't a lot of discussion about it because it all came together pretty quick.
I think Juan and I actually ran into each other on the grid in Michigan. And you know, it was as simple as, "Hey, I heard – obviously you're not with 42 (team), what are you up to?" He said, "Not sure." And I said, "We ought to put you in that IndyCar sometime." And he said, "Let's talk about it."
From then on, it was kind of casual conversation; it turned into the real deal. That's really how we started and how we ended up here today.
Juan, can you talk about the opportunity to join the team and why this was the right move for you at this point in your career?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, first of all, thanks to everybody. I'm really excited. If you really dream of any ideal position for a driver, and you could say, you could race for Penske, I think that would be No. 1. And you know – when I heard and it was announced that I wasn't going to be in the 42 car next year, my No. 1 choice was going to be in a winning car. I really wanted to be in a winning car.
As Tim said, when this opportunity came around, you know, you didn't even have to think about it. It was something that it was a great opportunity. Having Helio and Will as teammates, two great guys, guys that – one is leading the championship and the other guy has so much speed and so much potential that between them, I think they can help me a lot get up to speed. You have to remember, I've been out of the open‑wheel for a while, so I'm going to have to get up to speed with everything again but I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Could you give details, is there any sponsorship in place for this ride yet?
TIM CINDRIC: That's a good question. I think we are asking ourselves that same question. The approach that we took, because obviously it was a pretty short time frame – once it got to the point where it was something that really looked like we could put it together, it really came down to Roger's commitment to the sport and Roger's commitment to winning, and the approach that we have taken, really, is let's put the competitive piece in play first, and then hopefully we can sort the rest of it out. And I guess that's one of the advantages we all have working for Roger is his commitment to winning comes before everything else. You know, the answer to your question is, no, we don't have even one sponsor for one race as we sit here today, but, you know, I'm confident that will change as things go along.
Juan, you mentioned it might take you a while to get up to speed in open‑wheel. What sort of goals or objectives are you setting for 2014? Do you have a race you feel you need to be competitive by? Do think you can go to Indy and win? Talk about how quickly you think you'll come up to speed.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: To be honest with you, the oval side I'm not too worried about it. I'm not worried at all to be honest with you. I think having the seven years of NASCAR and then my open‑wheel experience before that, I think I'm pretty excited about going to the ovals. I know we don't go to a lot, but you know, the one you want to win, it's an oval. You want to win the Indy 500. I'm excited about that. I have the opportunity to be in the car at Indy and I think with Penske it is going to be huge.
And I think the other one is going to be a process. I normally pick up things really quick; all my career I have. As I said before, having Will and Helio as teammates helping me out is going to really help me get up to speed. I'm going to have to learn a lot again, but I'm up to the challenge – that is the No. 1 thing.
Have you talked to Chip Ganassi about this, and if you haven't, what do you expect the conversation to be like?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Well, I tried to call him this morning to tell him about it, and actually we texted because he was in Europe. I feel like he was very excited for me. Something that we have with Chip is that we are very good friends. We have a lot of respect for each other.
As he had to make a decision this year to go a different direction, I had to do the same thing. And I have a great opportunity and a great chance with Team Penske, and you know, we are going to be competitors and I'm looking forward to the challenge.
Did you have any offers in NASCAR?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: Yes.
I guess you don't want to elaborate.
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: No. (Laughing). I had a lot of opportunities, not only in NASCAR, but in open‑wheel, different things. But when you look at everything, I said from my first media availability when I became a free agent, I said, I want a winning car. And they don't come any better than Penske Racing.
Any chance of running Fontana in October since it's the last major oval before Indy?
TIM CINDRIC: From my perspective, yeah, I'd love to run him in Fontana, but something tells me Chip's probably not going to let that happen (laughter). We already talked about the fact that he's got to stay focused and the commitments that he has on the 42 car there. We're certainly not going to get in the way of any of that, and there's a seat for him here as soon as he's able to take it. But no, there's no plans for that as we sit here.
What's going to be your biggest challenge transitioning back to the IndyCars, as far as the driving and/or conditioning goes?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: The conditioning is a big part of it. You know, since the moment I became a free agent, I wanted the opportunity in open‑wheel and I've been training really hard. I know I have a long way to go to where I want to be. I know what it takes to be in the shape that you need to be in to win and be a champion. So I'm working toward that goal, and the good thing is that we've got a lot of time until the first race, so I've got a lot of time to prepare myself physically and mentally for it.
Juan, could elaborate a little bit, did it just come down to, as you said, a winning car, or was there a part of you that had to decide between open‑wheel and NASCAR and what was the decision process?
JUAN PABLO MONTOYA: I feel like in NASCAR, that I'm to the point that if I have the right opportunity – even this year, if the car has the speed, we have shown that we can compete for wins. But I mean, it came down to wanting to race for Roger. In a way, it's always been one of my dreams to be able to be part of this organization. And being here, it's unbelievable. I'm just so excited, I can't believe. I'm like a five‑year‑old kid right now.
Tim, you've had AJ Allmendinger in the third car this year, and he had a number of test days before his first outing, and although he was fast, he seemed to lack the – split tenths of a second needed to really be competitive. Are there any takeaway lessons you have from running AJ this year, as a recent NASCAR convert, that you might apply when it's time to get Juan in the car and up to speed, as well?
TIM CINDRIC: I think when you look at the AJ situation, it's a little bit different because we were not sitting here in September, you know, trying to prepare AJ to get ready for the season. I can't recall off the top of my head when all that came about, but he didn't have the opportunity to start with the team and start fresh from the season. And really, our focus with AJ was to prepare him for Indianapolis, because that's really what we announced was that he was going to go run the Indy 500 and that anything else that we did with AJ was really in preparation for running Indy.
So I feel like, you know, based on how he ran at Indy, and how well he got up to speed, I felt like our main task of having him prepare to win that race, I think we were successful. Obviously we didn't win the race. We weren't ready for the seatbelt coming off. But if that doesn't happen, I think it's a different story there, at least he's got a much better shot than he had there.
So everything else was really just in preparation for that, and the focus wasn't on trying to win Barber or trying to win Long Beach as much as it was we make sure we get our experience right and make sure we're prepared. So I agree, for those races, he probably wasn't as well prepared as he could be, but I'm confident that that will be different this year.