A decorated pair of Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach winners are kicking off race weekend on Thursday by being inducted into the Long Beach Motorsports Walk of Fame. Juan Pablo Montoya and Helio Castroneves, who are still driving in the IMSA series, took a break from their busy race schedule for the event on South Pine Avenue in front of the Convention Center.
Castroneves won the Long Beach IndyCar title in 2001, and took the Indy Lights checkered flag in 1997. Montoya won the 1999 TGPLB as a CART driver in his first race in Long Beach, and finished third as an IndyCar driver in 2015. Both legendary drivers are still competing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship this year. The BUBBA Burger SportsCar Grand Prix at Long Beach is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Saturday.
“It is entirely appropriate that we recognize these two racing legends here at Long Beach this year,” Grand Prix Association of Long Beach president and CEO Jim Michaelian said. “They have excelled in their performances both here and around the world and this year return to Long Beach both driving sports cars for Team Penske.”
Montoya won the Indy 500 in 2000 and 2015 along with 15 IndyCar victories and seven Formula One race wins on his resume. The Bogota, Colombia, native is co-driving with Dane Cameron in Team Penske’s #6 Acura Prototype, and he’s one of three drivers to win in Formula One, Indy Cars and NASCAR.
We caught up with Montoya to discuss his busy weekend on and off of the track.
Question: Does it feel strange to be inducted into a walk of fame while racing on the same weekend?
A: Yeah it’s kind of weird that I’m still racing. It’s like, are we going to get inducted while we’re racing? But Helio has won here as well. So to have both of us being inducted at the same time is pretty cool.
Q: You and Helio have been competing together and against each other for years. Do you have a favorite memory with him?
A: With Helio it’s always fun. Especially in qualifying. We always used to go at each other as hard as we could. And qualifying is always so important (in Long Beach) and Helio was one of those guys who always had a shot at it. So you always wanted to try to beat him.
Q: Do you feel like a old man in a young man’s game, or a young man in an old man’s game?
A: I still feel I can beat anybody on the track, so that’s the only thing that really matters. I think people used to think, ‘young guys this, young guys that,’ but it’s the older, experienced guys who are winning races.
Q: Having experience and using it are two different things. How have you used your experiences to be a better driver?
A: You don’t think about it. It’s king of normal. There’s nothing important that you have to decide to look at or not. You just drive and deal with what comes at you.
Q: How excited are you to keep your racing career going in a different series?
A: I’ve always been a competitive and passionate guy about racing. And I think that’s one of the main reasons I’m good at it. It’s never been a matter of racing for the money. I just race because I want to win races.
Q: What’s the draw about the IMSA series that gets you so excited?
A: The cars, the prototypes are so good. It makes it very exciting.
Q: Do they remind you of cars you’ve driven before?
A: Not at all. The only thing they remind me of is how competitive it is, and having a teammate sharing the car has been a lot of fun. Working together is one hell of a new challenge for me. There can’t be any selfishness. The more you can share with your teammate, the better you’ll be.
Q: Do you have a favorite memory from racing in Long Beach?
A: Well the first time I came here I won the first time out, so that was really, really cool. I was a big fan of that first, original track.
Q: What is your favorite part of the TGPLB track?
A: Long Beach is really three sections. There’s the first couple of corners with the (dolphin) fountain, then the two 90 degree corners and their own type of corners, and then the last bit is complex. I think they’re all interesting, and you can make up time everywhere, so it’s always fun.
Q: Did you having family members come out of the hall of fame ceremony?
A: No. I don’t make a big deal out of it. I tell people the same thing when I won Indy. It’s great that I won it, but there’s another race next week. When you stop racing, you can look back on it.
Watch Montoya participate in the IMSA practice on Friday morning…
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