Montoya and the 2016 Le Mans 24 Hours


There may be flecks of grey in that famous black bob of hair, but the boyish passion for motor sport still bubbles through. Juan Pablo Montoya can’t hide his enthusiasm for the latest racing machine he’s been driving in a long career in which he really has done a bit of everything.

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The passion that he has brought to his racing in the junior single-seater ranks, CART, Formula 1, NASCAR and now IndyCar is there for everyone to see as he samples Porsche’s World Endurance Championship winner, the 919 Hybrid. It is evident when he talks about the high-tech racer, it’s evident when you watch him on the track and it’s evident, perhaps most pertinently, on the stopwatch.

“One hell of a toy” is how the winner of seven Grands Prix describes the Porsche after a couple of short runs on the morning of the official WEC rookie test in Bahrain the day after Mark Webber, Timo Bernhard and Brendon Hartley sealed the drivers’ title in this very same car.

“First impressions of the car are that it is amazing,” says a driver who turned 40 in September. “It is a lot of fun: it has a lot of power and is really stable. It is shocking because it is so good that it is actually, in a way, kind of easy.”

So easy that Montoya admits that he is overdriving.

“It is so predictable that it invites you to hustle the hell out of it,” he explains. “That is the biggest thing for me: I need to figure out the balance between driving it fast and overdriving.”

And figure it out he does. Montoya gets more laps in the afternoon and then a one-lap qualification simulation. Bang! He posts a a 1m40.861s right at the end of the five-hour test.

That’s just over a second slower than Bernhard’s best lap from qualifying, but the conditions for Montoya probably aren’t quite so good. The sun isn’t going down and the wind is stronger.

This is a proper test for Montoya. There may be PR value in it for Porsche, but he’s being given a similar programme to Kevin Magnussen, Oliver Turvey and Mitch Evans, who is also taking part in the rookie test, during an evaluation test at Barcelona earlier in the month.

That means he’s been on the simulator back at Porsche Motorsport HQ in Weissach, he’s been given a copy of the 919 driving manual – ”it was kind of shocking when they gave me 30 pages on how to drive the car” – and he goes through a planned programme of acclimatisation, a race run and then that qualifying simulation.

But Montoya reckons “it’s all about enjoying the car”. He does have friends within Porsche. In fact, he owes this test to his relationship with Porsche LMP1 vice-president Fritz Enzinger and team principal Andreas Seidl from his days at the Williams BMW Formula 1 squad in the early 2000s. But he’s not a contender to drive next year in the third 919 Hybrid at the Le Mans 24 Hours.

There may or may not be a vacancy in the third car. Whether Force India driver Nico Hulkenberg defends his Le Mans crown together with Nick Tandy and Earl Bamber depends on the F1 calendar and the avoidance of the cynical clash between the new Azerbaijan Grand Prix with the French enduro. But Montoya isn’t going to get that hypothetical spot.

“We haven’t even talked about Le Mans,” says Montoya. “A lot of people are making assumptions, but really we haven’t.”

The Colombian is going to be a bit busy in the run-up to Le Mans next year. He wouldn’t, for example, be able to do the Test Day two weeks before the race. It’s no longer mandatory for him as a rookie to do the test, but Porsche certainly doesn’t like the idea of throwing a driver into the deep end at the big race. It hung its hat on giving each of its three cars an identical chance in the 24 Hours this year, and it paid dividends.

There’s also the matter of his on-going contract with Penske. It isn’t clear if he would be free to do the race under its terms. So Le Mans, right now, remains something for the future for Monotya.

“At some point it would be cool to do it,” he says. “I’ve raced everything, so it would be a cool experience.

“But if you are going to do Le Mans, it has got to be in a car like this. I’m not interested in doing it in a GT or a smaller car [he’s talking about an LMP2 prototype].”

There is, for Montoya, the little matter of winning.

“At this point in my career I race because I love it,” he explains. “I don’t need to be racing, but I love racing and I like to win. I want to beat everyone. That’s it, simple.”

Perhaps Porsche might one day give Montoya a shot at emulating Graham Hill by completing the unofficial triple crown of victories at the Monaco Grand Prix, the Indy 500 and the Le Mans 24 Hours.

“Let’s do the test,” says Seidl, “and see for the future.”

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