A Monaco Grand Prix victory, two Indianapolis 500 milk drinking sessions, three 24 Hours of Daytona wins, plus NASCAR Cup Series triumphs, a CART title and a Race of Champions to boot.
Safe to say that Juan Pablo Montoya has had a distinguished career – it’s not often you get such a multi-talented driver who is successful across so many diverse disciplines. We sat down with the versatile Colombian after a recent 12 hours of Sebring podium for an expansive discussion about sim racing and the future of esports.
More specifically, what does he think is missing from modern-day simulators compared to the real thing?
“The biggest thing you miss a little bit [at Sebring] is how extreme the bumps are,” said Juan Pablo.
“When you’ve driving the real racetrack and you learn how you must respect the bumps, if you can translate that same feeling or fear to a simulator then it will become a little bit more real. I think the tracks today are very accurate and I’m a big fan of all the cars in the simulators, they drive really, really, close.
“But the thing for me [currently lacking] when you race the simulator is not needing to respect it like you would in a real car.”
As a sim-rig owner, and someone who spent “an hour per day” on it during lockdown, now the younger members of the Montoya family are the main users of the setup. Juan Pablo’s son Sebastian Montoya Freydell is currently racing in F4 and Juan Pablo sees the sim as a way of assisting his fledgling career.
“Sim racing does a lot of things. One, if you’ve never been to a place before, it doesn’t just give you an idea [of the circuit], the accuracy today of the racetracks is amazing. It makes a huge difference.
“[From a focus point of view] when things get easy, that’s when the concentration dips and mistakes happen. I think it’s good when they spend a lot of hours doing something. My son will spend three or four hours racing with a group of friends. They all run together and do all these races. People from karting, to IndyCar and F4.
“Funnily enough, with my son, when we ran Indy on rFactor 2, he found a way to go really quickly. I was going flat and was three tenths slower than him. When you start figuring out things like that, then in the real car you’ll start figuring out things as well to go quicker. That was a really cool thing.”
One of the interesting elements of sim-racing and esports is its relative accessibility. With the costs of real on-track racing even in the junior formulae spiralling, many aspiring youngsters are turning to sim race as a way of getting extra practice or even foregoing a karting career to focus purely on esports success.
Some esports competitors, such as reigning Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup champion Sebastian Job and recent Formula E: Accelerate champion Frede Rasmussen have been fortunate to be picked up by Red Bull Racing Esports, which provides them with support and training. They both started out with affordable simulator equipment and now have successful esports careers.
“I think it’s either going to be alongside karting or in its own path completely,” is Juan Pablo’s opinion about the future of esports.
“But, I think it’s a good way into motorsport if you don’t have the means. Karting is insane now, in Europe. The amount of money you spend each year racing go-karts or where my son is [currently] and everything is crazy.
“You could spend 20 grand or 25 grand and have the best simulator on the planet and it’s something you could probably use for a few years. It will last four-five years before you even have to think about changing. And nowadays you could probably buy a couple of things and re-adapt it, not even need to change it.
“The value and where you stand from the investment is completely different [compared to real racing].
“For me, if you’re getting into simulators, you get a system with a good brake pedal. When I grew up that was the weakest thing because it was based on travel not on force. If you can get one that’s based on force, and most of them are now, then it’s golden.”
As for his simulator at home, there’s a new player who is using it more than most…
“You know, sim racing is huge. A huge part of our house. Yesterday my daughter spent two hours on it. She just quietly doesn’t tell anybody, but you just hear the ‘click, click, click’ of the paddles. She really enjoys it. Her little secret. One of the places she plays a lot is the Red Bull Ring. Why she plays the Red Bull Ring I have no idea, but she loves it.”
Clearly, racing is in the DNA of the Montoya household, and this instance just highlights how much more accessible the virtual world can be when compared to a traditional karting-based career path. Will esports and real racing converge? We’ll have to wait and see on that one, but when someone who has been there and done it like Juan Pablo Montoya starts taking notice, you know that sim racing is here to stay long after the pandemic.
Five quick-fire questions for Juan Pablo Montoya
Indianapolis or Daytona?
Deer or horses with horns?
Hahaha, horses with horns
Radio controlled planes or sim-racing?
Probably radio controlled planes
Single-seater racing or closed cockpit?
A few years ago I would have said single-seater, but now most of the single-seaters feel like a closed cockpit. Honestly, when I drove the INDYCAR, I felt in a [more closed] cockpit than the sports car!
Who has been the toughest teammate you’ve raced against so far?
I would say Ralf [Schumacher]. Kimi was tough, but I really struggled in the McLaren. I hated the car.
You can watch the full in-depth video interview below, covering Sebring, Indy 500 preparations, sim racing, esports and much more.
Image credit: Motorsport Images