Juan Pablo Montoya says he was “surprised” at the challenge posed by the Le Mans circuit after completing his first laps of the 8.5-mile course during Sunday’s official Test Day.
The Colombian flew overnight from Detroit, where he finished third in Saturday’s IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship race for Acura Team Penske, to be with the United Autosports squad in France.
Montoya registered 35 laps behind the wheel of the No. 32 Ligier JS P217 Gibson, which he shared with Hugo de Sadeleer and Will Owen, posting the 14th-best time in class.
“I was actually surprised how good it is and how challenging it is,” Montoya said when asked by Sportscar365 during a roundtable discussion if Le Mans had lived up to his expectations.
“It’s fun. It’s not easy because there are so many bumps and little tricks but when you do it enough times – once you know where the bumps are and where to place the car – it gets a little bit easier.”
Montoya was impressed by the high-speed corners, notably Tertre Rouge, Indianapolis and the Porsche Curves, saying those sections presented the toughest challenge.
“When I’m at Daytona I qualify every lap I’m in the car, all the time,” he continued.
“Here you can’t. It’s so inviting to drive ten-tenths, but it’s so inviting to get it completely wrong, like at Indianapolis.
“Honestly, I was lucky not to have gone off there. That [initial] right-hander is so inviting to just go deeper and deeper.”
The 42-year-old said he felt reasonably well acquainted with the circuit, which he has previously lapped in simulator sessions at Le Mans and Miami.
He was also impressed by the United Autosports operation, although noted having difficulty adjusting to the right-hand drive Ligier after racing the left-hand drive Acura ARX-05 DPi the day before.
“It’s really good – it’s well-organized,” said Montoya. “I was really surprised at all this. They’re really good guys and really good mechanics.
“It’s very different because most of the engineers come from the factory of the cars. That was very different. I’m used to working with an engineer that is just from the team.
“I had no idea how good it was going to be. I really enjoyed it.”
Montoya Satisfied With Early Numbers
In terms of pace, the three-time Rolex 24 at Daytona winner was “pretty happy” with his 3:32.363 lap, but said there were some points for improvement to work on during race week.
“At the end of the day, I had three or four laps where I could be a second and a half or two seconds quicker than I was running, but I just kept getting traffic,” he explained.
“I was pretty happy actually. I was picking up maybe 1.2 or 1.3 seconds from just past the second chicane to the line. So I felt good.
“I think at Indianapolis I’ve still got a bit of time, like learning the timing of the braking and turning.
“We’ve got a lot of issues on the braking, a lot of rear locking. I do a bit of overlap to really prepare the brakes for the braking zones and my team-mates don’t, so it’s a little bit different – there’s a bit of a balance.
“They’re young and they do a good job. At the end of the day, the better they drive, the better I do as well, so it’s about putting the whole package [together].”