1. Montoya looking forward to challenge of INDYCAR
2. Mastering new venue vital in championship race
1. Montoya looking forward to challenge of INDYCAR: What started as a casual pit lane conversation between Penske Racing president Tim Cindric and Juan Pablo Montoya, has blossomed into the return of Team Penske's third full-time IZOD IndyCar Series entry.
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Montoya, the 1999 CART champion and 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner, will drive the No. 2 Team Penske Chevrolet for the full 2014 season alongside Will Power and three-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves.
"Juan is a proven winner at all levels of motorsport," said Roger Penske. "He has won a lot of races and championships and he has an extremely passionate fan base. We look forward to building on his successes together and we believe he will be a great addition to Team Penske."
Montoya, a 37-year old native of Colombia, is one of the most accomplished drivers in the world. His career highlights include race wins in Formula One, NASCAR and Indy car. He is the only driver to produce victories in the Indianapolis 500, the 24 Hours of Daytona and the Monaco Grand Prix. Montoya earned 11 IndyCar wins over two seasons as he captured the CART Series title in his rookie season of 1999 followed by a victory in the Indy 500 in 2000.
"I am really excited," Montoya said. "If you dream of any ideal position for any driver, driving for Penske would be No. 1. When I became a free agent, I said my No. 1 choice was to be in a winning car. When this opportunity came around, I didn't have to think about it. I'm looking forward to the challenge."
Montoya says adapting back to an open-wheel can and all the changes that have occurred since he last drove an Indy car in 2000 will be a test, but he's always been a quick study. Montoya added he has been training with an eye towards racing an Indy car and has "plenty of time before the first race to get there."
"The conditioning is big part of it," he said. "Since the moment I became a free agent I was looking at open-wheel and training really hard. I know the conditioning it takes to be a champion and I'm working to that goal."
Team Penske is one of the most successful teams in the history of professional sports. Competing in a variety of disciplines, cars owned and prepared by Penske Racing have produced 377 major race wins, 433 pole positions and 24 National Championships. The team has also earned 15 Indianapolis 500 victories in its storied history.
"Juan has been a winner in everything he's been in," Cindric said. "We didn't have to drag him along and convince him that Indy was different than NASCAR. This was about him saying: 'I want to drive for you guys and I want to figure out how to win with you guys.'"
2. Mastering new venue vital in championship race: With three races to go in the IZOD IndyCar Series season, a doubleheader at Houston's Reliant Park - the series' newest venue - may seem like a curveball for the 10 drivers eligible for the title.
But new venues late in the season aren't a rare occurrence. The series' first stop at Baltimore in 2011 and the return of Auto Club Speedway to the schedule in 2012 are among the recent races that have played a role as the series decided its champion.
To some drivers, racing at a new venue isn't that much of a disadvantage after the first practice session.
"We've done (new races) a couple of times recently," four-time series champion Dario Franchitti said. "It requires a different mindset to go in there, particularly when you are racing guys that have experience there."
Only six drivers expected to compete at Reliant Park have previous Indy car experience at the 1.7-mile temporary street circuit, and of the 10 drivers still mathematically eligible, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power and Justin Wilson have started there in Indy cars.
"There's not much to take out of 2007; it's completely different," said Pagenaud, who the year before earned the Champ Car Atlantic Series championship. "What we think is going to work needs to be the thing that is going to work. The rest will come down to the driver."
The next IZOD IndyCar Series race is the Shell and Pennzoil Grand Prix of Houston presented by the Greater Houston Honda Dealers doubleheader on Oct. 5 and 6 at Reliant Park. Both races will be televised live by NBC Sports Network (3 p.m. ET on Oct. 5 and 1 p.m. ET on Oct. 6) and broadcast by the IMS Radio Network, including on Sirius and XM Channels 211, www.indycar.com and the INDYCAR 13 App for most smartphones and tablets. The next Firestone Indy Lights race is the Grand Prix of Houston on Oct. 5 at Houston's Reliant Park. The race will be televised by NBC Sports Network at 4 p.m. (ET) on Oct. 6