Montoya ready for return to open-wheel racing

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Updated: 3/27/2014 10:05 pm

After spending the past 12 years in Formula One and NASCAR, Montoya is racing Indy cars again. The 2000 Indianapolis 500 winner and 1999 CART champion is driving for team owner Roger Penske, rather than Chip Ganassi, for whom he raced in CART and NASCAR.

Montoya competed in Formula One from 2001-06, driving first for Williams and then McLaren. He spent the past seven years racing full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Last September, Montoya signed with Team Penske to drive the No. 2 car for the 2014 IndyCar season. He had announced the month prior that he was leaving Ganassi's Sprint Cup team at the conclusion of the 2013 season.

Montoya is the only driver who has won the Indianapolis 500, the Monaco Grand Prix and the 24 Hours of Daytona. The 38-year-old Colombian had four street course wins in CART competition. This will be his first time on the streets of St. Petersburg.

"I've never been on the St. Petersburg course before, so I'm going to have to get up to speed quickly," Montoya said. "But I'm with a fantastic team, the best team there is in Team Penske. I have the support of a sponsor like Verizon Wireless that came on board with us. It's been a long offseason, and I'm just ready to get back to racing. I'm sure the first lap of practice will get rid of any nerves that I will have, and it will be business as usual."

To prepare for his upcoming full season in IndyCar, Montoya participated in several test sessions with his Team Penske teammates, Will Power and Helio Castroneves, during the offseason. Starting last November, Montoya tested at Sebring (Fla.) International Raceway, Phoenix International Raceway, Auto Club Speedway (Fontana, Calif.), Sonoma (Calif.) Raceway and Barber Motorsports Park (Birmingham, Ala.).

But what has Montoya done to prepare for the race in St. Petersburg?

"I've seen about a hundred videos of it," he said. "I watched the races. That's one of the hardest challenges, getting ready for the first time on a street course, like at St. Petersburg. I think it's going to be eye-opening. I think it's going to be a slow-building weekend, getting comfortable in the car. It's something I've been getting better at - work on the car. Going fast, it's easier. If you're not comfortable in the car the chances of getting it wrong are big and it will be very hard to try and figure it out."

Montoya looked impressive in last week's test session at Barber. He was second fastest on day 1 and ninth quickest on day 2. Power topped the time charts in both days there.

Castroneves has won an IndyCar race in St. Petersburg three times, which is more than any other driver. His most recent victory here came two years ago.

Last year, James Hinchcliffe from Andretti Autosport scored his first career IndyCar victory in St. Petersburg. Hinchcliffe passed Castroneves for the lead after a restart with 26 laps remaining and then held it to become the first Canadian driver to win an IndyCar race since Paul Tracy took the checkered flag for the 2007 CART event in Cleveland.

"I remember crying like a little girl as soon as I crossed the line, which wasn't expected," Hinchcliffe recalled of his win in St. Pete. "It was the highlight of the year; it was the highlight of my career, really. It's going to be tough to top that, because there were a lot of different elements that made that win particularly special. I can't wait to go back."

Twenty-two teams are entered for the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

Series: IZOD IndyCar. Date: Sunday, March 30. Race: Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg. Site: Streets of St. Petersburg. Track: 1.8-mile, 14-turn temporary street circuit. Start Time: 3:20 p.m. ET. Laps: 110. Miles: 198. 2013 Winner: James Hinchcliffe. Television: ABC. Radio: IMS Radio Network/SIRIUS XM Satellite.

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