Captain’s Corner: Montoya expects to fight for win at Petit Le Mans

As part of Motorsport.com’s content partnership with Team Penske, we provide fans with exclusive content each week from the organization’s drivers, crew members and staff throughout the 2017 season.

Captain’s Corner: Montoya expects to fight for win at Petit Le Mans
Roger Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, Team Penske
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya, Acura ARX-05 Dpi
Juan Pablo Montoya tests the 2018 Chevrolet

With the Team Penske-run Acura ARX-05s due to make their race debut at next January’s Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona, team owner Roger Penske decided it would be a wise plan to enter his team in the 2017 finale of the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The purpose of participating in the 10-hour Petit Le Mans at Road Atlanta is to help get his drivers, crews, strategists – all team members, in fact – back into the swing of IMSA sportscar racing, a category of the sport that Team Penske hasn’t tackled since 2009.

The entry is an Oreca 07 (the chassis on which the Acura ARX-05 is based) but powered by a Gibson 4.2-liter V8, rather than the ARX-05’s 3.5-liter twin-turbo. And the all-star driver lineup is quite sensational – Juan Pablo Montoya, Helio Castroneves and Simon Pagenaud.

Montoya, who has piled on the test miles in the Acura, believes Team Penske is a strong contender for victory in the Oreca-Gibson this weekend, despite the strength and experience of the opposition in IMSA’s Prototype division. Just before heading to Atlanta, GA, he spoke to Motorpsort.com.

DM: How much testing have you done with the Oreca-Gibson and how different is it from the Acura?

JPM: We’ve done a day and a bit in the Oreca and the behavior of the chassis is obviously going to be similar, although it has very different aero.

But it’s the engine characteristics that are very different – one’s a V8, the Acura is V6 twin turbo – and the vibration and noise from the Gibson V8 is a lot higher. One of the cool things about the Acura is that it’s quiet inside the car, so doing long stints is pretty comfortable.

And how is this generation DPi and LMP2 car compared with the old Daytona Prototypes that you won the Rolex 24 with three times [2007, ’08, ’13]…

Oh my God, it is night and day different. Absolutely night and day. The downforce and speed you can take through the corners with these new cars is in another league – about five seconds a lap quicker. These DPi and P2 cars drive really well, I must say. As an example, when you come from open-wheel racing, you expect the braking to be a lot worse in a sportscar than an IndyCar, and in the old Daytona Prototypes it was, but with the Acura and Oreca, the braking performance is probably the most impressive aspect of these cars. Really strong.

So is it more tiring to drive, more strain on your neck and arms?

No, it’s fine – you’ve got power-steering of course. The interesting thing is the steering position – it’s very different from an IndyCar, a lot lower, and that was the biggest issue for Helio at first. I just get in and drive, I’m not too picky about that, but Helio really noticed it… and then when I did that last test of the 2018 IndyCar at Sebring last week, I got in and thought, ‘OK, now I understand where Helio’s coming from; it really is very different.’ But you know, like anything, you get used to it with time.

What do you think of Road Atlanta as a track?

It’s great. I first raced there in 1994 in the Barber-Saab series, and then I tested a Cup car there four or five times while I was in NASCAR. But it’s slightly different in a car like that! We were probably about 15 seconds slower. But yeah, great layout, nice and challenging. It’s going to get busy this weekend with all those GT cars around on a 2.5-mile track.

What’s a realistic aim for the team this weekend?

To win, of course. I mean, Team Penske is all about winning. But the other aim is for everyone on the team to really learn about sportscars, the demands of endurance racing, how to execute, understanding the rules, and give us all practice. If there’s going to be mistakes or things we can maybe do better, then let’s do it here and work out how to correct them before we head into a full season with the Acura. We practiced handing over to the next driver in the pitstops, and actually that led us to change the seatbelts already. 

Did Simon and Helio adapt to the car OK?

Oh yeah, Helio has been really quick and Simon has driven those cars before so he knows what he’s doing as well.

Have you done any testing in the wet?

No, and that’s gonna be interesting. The last time I drove a Daytona Prototype in the wet was probably eight or nine years ago at the Rolex 24 and the weather this weekend is supposed to start nice and get worse… But, whatever, it’s OK.

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