Montoya: “The big thing for Alonso at Indy will be running in traffic”

Two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya, who is competing at Indy this year in a fifth Penske-Chevrolet, tells what his old F1 rival Fernando Alonso can expect at Indy.

Are you expecting him to be strong?

Absolutely. Fernando is a hell of a racer; I could relate a lot to him and the way he raced when we used to compete together.

He just needs to learn how an oval works and particularly the technique of following other cars. In setting up the car, I think he’s going to do a good job. He will have a good feel. But the big thing in Indy is balancing what you need from the car when you run by yourself against what you need from the car when you run in traffic, sometimes a big group of cars. It’s an interesting feeling.

You really want to have a little bit of understeer – that will be the biggest adjustment for him, because in Formula 1 you always want that perfect balance, and for the car to feel quite free in the high-speed corners. On an oval, you really don’t want that… You want a little bit of understeer.

But he will do fine. You know he’s a very good, very experienced driver.

I understand you’ve already offered to help him, despite you being a victory contender yourself this year. Are you sure that’s a good idea?
Yeah, I texted him as soon as I heard, but I don’t think he’ll need a lot of help. For me, if you’re confident of your own situation, I’m not a big believer in hiding stuff from anybody.

Are you expecting the Honda package to be as strong at Indy this year as it was last year?
Yeah, I think so. I’ve been talking with the people at the team [Penske] and that’s what they say. But they are also saying they expect Chevrolet to come up with something strong, as well. So it’s going to be exciting.

How long did it take you to get used to an IndyCar in superspeedway configuration when you came back in 2014, and hadn’t been in an IndyCar for 14 years?
Remember for me it was different because I still had oval experience, not just NASCAR, but Indy cars. Like you say, it was a long time earlier, but I still had it and knew what to do. I think it would be good if Fernando could test on a road course first, just to get used to the car, so when he gets to Indy, all he has to get used to is the oval technique. That is a big thing itself.

Is turning into Turn 1 at 230mph something he’s going to be fine with because of racing at places like Monza?
Bah, Monza is really slow, man! Sure, you’re going quick on the straights but the turns are slow – definitely compared with Indy. But Spa, Silverstone… they have a lot of fast corners. And this year with the extra grip that F1 cars have, the corner speeds are higher so he won’t have an issue. Like I say, Indy is not about how good you are by yourself, it’s about how good you are in traffic.

Was it unnerving for you to first race at Indy in 2000?

Nah, not Indy because that was in the old IRL car and I was used to the quicker cars in CART. But my first oval races in CART Indy cars, they were really tough, a big wake-up call because I wasn’t really sure what I needed out of the car. The first superspeedway I tested at was Michigan, and that was fast, but after you learn how to do it, it’s not really a big deal. You just go and do it and don’t think about it. But until you do it, Oh my God, it’s nerve-wracking!

Lately Formula 1 has been running such big tracks with so much run-off area, that sense of danger is not there, so maybe that will be a shock for Fernando but… if the team does things right, I think he’ll be fine.