Andretti Autosport owner Michael Andretti has made it clear that he wants to add 1999 CART champion Juan Montoya to his ranks next season, and as RACER has learned, significant progress has been made in finding the budget to bring the 37-year-old into their fold.
“We're at about 50 percent of what's needed to run Juan,” said John Lopes, the team's senior VP and chief marketing officer. “There's been a lot of interest in him, and with his success in Indy car racing – winning the 2000 Indy 500, his wins in F1, and everything he's done in NASCAR, companies sit up and take notice if you have a chance to work with him.”
Annual budgets for a championship-winning team like Andretti Autosport can run in the $7 million range, making the prospect of securing all of the funding to run Montoya a formidable challenge in an era where open-wheel sponsorship is in limited supply.
Despite having a large budget number to hit, it's believed the acquisition of one final sponsor the team has been negotiating with would allow the Colombian's deal to be finalized.
“There are two particular sponsors that are definitely interested because of Juan, and if either were to happen, it would only be because of Juan,” Michael Andretti told RACER. “I would say there's a couple of scenarios that if a deal happens, it would be because of him. I wouldn't see them doing anything with anyone else but Juan.”
If Montoya is able to join the Andretti Autosport roster, he'd have two confirmed teammates to work with next year, joining 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay and Marco Andretti in the Chevy-powered team.
The team has been working hard to retain James Hinchcliffe and E.J. Viso, which would push the program to five cars if both return, and young Colombian standout Carlos Munoz, who races for Andretti in the Firestone Indy Lights Series, could be close to signing with the team.
As the elder statesman among the growing number of Colombian drivers in North America, Andretti says bringing Montoya into their IndyCar program could deliver an unexpected benefit to Munoz's search for sponsorship from his native country.
“If we can get that to happen it would be great but, obviously, we're not going after Juan to try to help Munoz; those are separate deals,” he added. “If we were able to get Juan, I hope it would help Munoz for sure but I'd love to have Juan drive for our team because I think he's an exceptional talent, especially in open-wheel cars."
"So that's what we're trying to work for. We're not giving up on Juan; we still want to make it happen. I know he wants to be here in the worst way and we would love to have him here, so we're trying to make it work out.”
Asked if the pursuit of Montoya has diluted the team's efforts to secure Hinchcliffe's deal for 2014, Andretti was direct with his response.
“Not at all,” he said. “It doesn't affect it in any way. We're still very much aggressive in trying to get Hinch's deal done. Montoya would not expect it any other way.”