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Montoya rates Indy win in his top two

5/28/2005

NÜRBURG, Germany – Five years after winning the Indianapolis 500, Juan Pablo Montoya is in Germany trying to win his first Grand Prix with West McLaren Mercedes.

His 2005 season got off to a slow start with car woes plus a shoulder
injury that kept him out of two races and hampered him in a third. Also,
the car changed considerably during his time out of the cockpit, and only
now is he getting back into the groove.

"In the first few races of the season the momentum was building up nicely
for me," Montoya told ESPN.com, "but the shoulder injury brought me back a
lot. And now the momentum is coming back.

"In a way it is nice to see Kimi [Raikkonen] winning, but it is also
frustrating because I know I have the pace to do that as well. I have to
be patient. He has been driving the car for four years and I have been
driving it for four races."

Raikkonen's dominating win in Spain and Monaco proved that the 2005 McLaren
MP4-20 is a winner. Montoya has yet to fully unlock that potential. His
best finish this year before the European Grand Prix was fourth in
Malaysia.

"I am limited by the way the car handles," Montoya said. "We have done a
lot of work on the set-up and tried to work around the problem. It seems
that Kimi can cope with understeer easier than I can. An understeering car
limits my lap time especially on new tires."

Inadequate testing and practice laps haven't helped Montoya. Five years ago he had nearly the entire month of May to dial in his car for the Indy 500.

"It's strange when you spend a month going around the same place,
especially when there are only four corners, and you spend a whole month
fine-tuning the car, and just working, for a 200-lap race," Montoya said.

Montoya rates his Indy 500 win and his 2003 Monaco Grand Prix win as the
two best victories of his career.

The shoulder injury he suffered (playing tennis he says) delayed his
chances of winning his first Grand Prix for McLaren in 2005. He sat out
the races in Bahrain and San Marino and then made a painful comeback in
Spain.

While Raikkonen won in Spain, Montoya finished seventh and one lap down.

"The Barcelona race was a nightmare," Montoya recalled. "I was telling the
team to tell Kimi to lap me, and I was backing out as much as I could
because I thought one lap less would be better for my shoulder."

The main reason Montoya raced in Spain is that he wanted to get a good
result to get a good spot in the qualifying line-up for Monaco. If he made
his comeback in Monaco he would have been the first person out to qualify
on the dirty track. As luck would have it, a penalty for causing an
accident in practice put Montoya at the back of the grid.

So how is the shoulder now?

"If 78 laps around Monaco does not test the shoulder nothing will," he
said. "In Monaco, my arm was getting tired but it was 10 percent of what I
had in Spain."

Besides the shoulder problem, Montoya has had to adapt to a car that had
been considerably updated since he last drove it.

"The suspension and aero and mechanical changed," he said. "The car
behaves in a very different way that I have been used to. On old tires I
am fine, but to get one lap out of the tires is difficult for me.

"It was hard. It was like when you go back to racing when you don't do any
winter testing. It was tough because my testing laps were limited, and I
couldn't do too many practice laps in the first race because of my
shoulder. At Monaco it was better because we were on the pace straightaway
and I could keep up with my shoulder."

Montoya's former Williams teammate Ralf Schumacher told him that he is
having the same problem at Toyota. He cannot push the Toyota the way he
used to push the Williams.

"I am having the same problems where you push the car one way and it tends
to give up another way," Montoya said. "You just have to learn it. The
test drivers have the advantage because they do so many miles that it
helps."

Montoya has been doing plenty of laps in the F1 simulator at the McLaren
factory to help get back in the groove.

As for the 500 back in the States, Montoya was the sensation at Indianapolis five years ago. This year, Danica Patrick has taken the Speedway by storm. Montoya
is impressed because at first he wasn't fully convinced about her
abilities.

"I saw her in a couple of races and she was doing a decent job but nothing
great," he said. "Then I saw in a couple of practice days at Indy that she
was up there, and I was kind of shocked. It's good to see. They [Rahal
Letterman] have a really good car around Indy."

Dan Knutson covers Formula One for National Speed Sport News and ESPN.com.