INDIANAPOLIS – A big tidbit was slipped in a press release on Wednesday, and that’s that Team Penske will field only three full-time cars for the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season and just four cars for the Month of May at Indy. Where this is big, is that Penske stated that the three full-time drivers will be Josef Newgarden, Simon Pagenaud and Will Power, with a fourth car being available for Helio Castroneves in May. That means that Juan Pablo Montoya won’t be racing for Penske in INDYCAR competition in 2018.
Montoya, left Chip Ganassi Racing on the NASCAR side to join Penske in INDYCAR in 2014. He won at Pocono and finished fourth in the final standings that year. In 2015, he tied Scott Dixon for the championship, but lost on a tiebreaker. The Colombian also won the Indianapolis 500 that year too. Then, in 2016, despite winning the opening race of the season at St. Pete, he had his worst year in a while coming home eighth in the final standings. His teammates finished in the top four. He was then replaced by Josef Newgarden, but offered a ride at Indy for May only. He decided to take it.
But, with Penske adding an IMSA team for 2018, he’s scaling back on the INDYCAR side. That means despite having an IMSA role, he doesn’t have an INDYCAR one with the team. However, Penske did say that Montoya is free to look elsewhere for an Indy ride and that he wouldn’t stand in the way.
So, where does that leave him?
Ganassi would make the absolute most sense. After all, Penske’s IMSA team is Honda and Ganassi is Honda in INDYCAR. Plus, Montoya has a rich history with the team, starting his career off with them in CART from 1999-2000, where he won the 1999 championship as a rookie and reached victory lane 11 times with them in two years, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500. He would go to Formula 1 in 2001, but come back to Ganassi in 2007 but this time in NASCAR.
But, I don’t think Montoya would drive for Penske’s rival team at Indy in May though. While I do see a fit there, especially with Ganassi scaling back to just two full-time cars in 2018, I don’t see Montoya driving for a rival team while under contract with Penske.
I do however think another Chevrolet team would be perfect for Montoya. In fact, with this team, Montoya could run even more races than just Indy. To me, I believe Montoya would be a great fit for Ed Carpenter Racing in sharing a role in the No. 20 Chevrolet seat with Ed Carpenter. With looking at the 2018 IMSA schedule and comparing it to what I know of the 2018 INDYCAR schedule, Montoya could run all road/street course races with the team including the Indianapolis 500 too. In fact, at Long Beach and Detroit, IMSA and INDYCAR share race weekends.
It would be a win-win for ECR because you know Penske could help out a bit on that car. Plus, it gives them a very competitive driver on road/street courses and gets them back into the limelight again.
Montoya, while a very good oval racer, has a ton of road racing experience. He’s running in IMSA which is strictly a road racing series. He also has nearly six years of F1 experience too. So, for him to pair with Carpenter in the No. 20 Chevrolet, that makes the most sense.
Then, Carpenter can field a third car at Indy for Montoya to join him and Spencer Pigot.
Also think about this, Montoya is the test driver for Chevrolet and the new 2018 car. He has a ton of experience already in the new car and will hit the ground running in it at St. Pete with more experience than anyone else.