CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) - Roger Penske wasn’t worried about finding a sponsor for Juan Pablo Montoya when he signed him, believing there would be interest in the Colombian’s return to open wheel racing.
And if nothing materialized, Penske was prepared to pay for Montoya’s IndyCar season out of his own pocket.
Penske now has the funding lined up for at least eight of the 17 races through longtime partner Verizon Wireless. The company announced Monday an expanded partnership with Team Penske that adds Montoya’s eight races.
Verizon is also continuing its full-season sponsorship of Will Power. Verizon will also be the primary sponsor for Power, Montoya and Helio Castroneves at the inaugural Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
“Verizon has been a terrific partner for Team Penske and we are excited to continue to grow our relationship with them in 2014 and beyond,” Penske said in a statement. “Verizon’s technology and marketing activation has meant so much to Team Penske and the sport of IndyCar racing and we look forward to building on this special partnership.”
The expanded partnership includes a multi-year contract extension with Team Penske for Verizon to provide wireless services for all of the Penske teams.
Verizon first partnered with Team Penske in 2009 as primary sponsor for Power in the Indianapolis 500. Verizon has since been on Power’s car for 17 wins, 25 poles and 28 podium finishes.
Penske has high hopes for Montoya, who won the CART championship in 1999 and the Indianapolis 500 the next year. Montoya spent the last seven years in NASCAR driving for Penske rival Chip Ganassi, and he became available when Ganassi decided not to renew his contract for 2014.
Penske grabbed him for his third IndyCar seat, which only ran six races last season with AJ Allmendinger.
“We want to see Juan win some races and he wants to win the championship,” Penske said. “He’s really motivated, and he feels he has something to prove. To me, he’s done well in tests and he’s gotten comfortable in the car, and now it is up to us to give him the tools he needs, and to be sure he understands how competitive it is out there.”
Montoya has shed more than 20 pounds since last summer, and Penske believes he’s adapted quickly with Castroneves and Power.
“We just had to get Montoya out of the jeans and into the black pants,” Penske said. “Other than that, it should be easy to work with him.”
Montoya was scheduled to be back in an Indy car Monday during a test session at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif., where the Penske organization hoped for a better showing than last month’s session at Sebring, Fla. All three cars ranked near the bottom on the speed charts, and Montoya was last out of the 11 drivers at the test.
“It shows we have more work to do, although Juan was faster than the time showed,” said Tim Cindric, president of Team Penske. “He knows he needs to pick up the pace. His time off is working against him, and the braking is so much more than he is used to. It is the commitment and the balance between working up to it and being fully committed.”
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