Updated at: 08/19/2013 3:05 PM
By JENNA FRYER
Michael Andretti is trying to find a sponsor to bring Juan Pablo Montoya back to IndyCar with Andretti Autosport.
"I have talked to Juan about IndyCar and told him `Hell yeah, let’s find a way to put something together,’ " Andretti told The Associated Press on Monday. "I’ve driven against him and I think he’s one of the best drivers I’ve ever driven against. It just comes down to sponsorship. So we’re looking, and if it’s a possibility, we want to do something with him."
Andretti only had conversations with Montoya last week after the Colombian learned from Chip Ganassi that he wouldn’t be re-signed to Ganassi’s NASCAR team for an eighth season. Montoya has been out of open wheel racing since he left Formula One in 2006 to rejoin Ganassi in NASCAR, and he’s not ruling out any series now that he’s looking for work.
He told AP on Monday a return to IndyCar isn’t out of the question, but wouldn’t reveal what teams he’s spoken to so far.
Montoya won 11 races in 1999 and 2000 in CART driving for Ganassi, including the 1999 CART championship and the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Montoya and Andretti raced against each other those two seasons, with Andretti winning three races in that span. The two waged one of the most memorable battles in series history, with Montoya coming out on top as the two nearly banged wheels racing side-by-side at 230 mph to the finish line at Michigan International Speedway in 2000.
Andretti believes that Montoya’s return to IndyCar would be a huge lift for the series.
"I think he could bring what he brought the last time _ it seemed like when he raced, half the stands were full of flags supporting him," Andretti said. "When he first got to NASCAR, he had a huge effect there. He brings a huge crowd, a huge support. He’s a big personality, and he could be a good personality for IndyCar because he definitely has that `don’t give a (crap) attitude.’ "
Where Montoya fits into the Andretti lineup remains to be seen because the marketing arm is still working behind the scenes to finalize the 2014 lineup.
The biggest piece of the puzzle is James Hinchcliffe, a three-time IndyCar winner this season and breakthrough star in the final year of his two-year deal. Andretti Autosport much wants Hinchcliffe back, but an offer is contingent on a commitment from sponsor GoDaddy.
While Andretti waits, Hinchcliffe is currently free to negotiate with other teams in the paddock.
"It’s all going to come down to GoDaddy and if they are going to play or not. They love Hinch, we love Hinch, but GoDaddy needs to decide if the return on their investment is there or not," Andretti said. "So we’re just waiting and Hinch is allowed to be talking to other teams. He’s not said that he wants to leave, but it’s only fair for him to be allowed to see what’s out there because we don’t want him to be left with nothing. That’s not fair to him, that’s not fair to the series."
Hinchcliffe’s deal is not tied to Andretti working out a deal with Montoya, he said.
"There’s still a possibility of running five cars," Andretti said. "I think we can do it no problem, so long as we have a properly funded deal."
The organization is also still trying to put together a deal for next season with Carlos Munoz, the Colombian who grew up a Montoya fan and finished second in the Indianapolis 500 in his IndyCar debut. He doesn’t have a deal yet in place for 2014 with E.J. Viso.
"We have a lot of irons in the fire," Andretti said. "If a sponsor falls out of the sky for Juan, then we don’t know what we’d do to make it all work."
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)