Juan Pablo Montoya loves everything involving remote controls and motorized machines.
It’s an endearing passion, one the Colombian shares with the late Formula 1 superstar Ayrton Senna, whose fascination with scale model planes and helicopters became part of the Brazilian’s lore in the 1980s.
For Montoya, who tore through IndyCar before landing in F1 where he earned seven grand prix victories for McLaren and Williams, trading a steering wheel and 230mph for something miniaturized has become his sanctuary away from the racetrack.
At 42, with a new deal to race for Acura Team Penske in IMSA a family to look after, remote control machines take the two-time Indy 500 winner back to a less complicated time in his life.
“When I met my wife Connie, we were talking and I said I always wanted to fly them; my father built some back in the day and it was really cool, but I never had the chance to do it with him,” JPM told RoadandTrack.com.
“When we were first married, on our first Christmas, she bought be a trainer plane. She got me hooked up. And you go through phases. There are times when all you want to fly is big jets. And then all you want to do it fly helicopters.
“But you have to have a lot of patience with them because you have to rebuild a lot of shit. You can fly them, no problem, but when you try to go upside down and do flips…and you get it wrong, every time you destroy it. But it’s fun.”
Crashed or new, the Zen moments associated with the hobby have traveled with Montoya from F1 to NASCAR, through his return to IndyCar with Roger Penske, and into IMSA.
“The building is sometimes more fun than the actual flying,” he said. “I had a room in my old apartment where I always had something to build. If I had an hour, I’d go and build something; it just clears your head. I brought it on the road. I’d bring planes and drones at Indy, NASCAR; you name it.”
Among his contemporaries, Montoya did well for himself during the gravy days of CART, F1, NASCAR, and everything he’s done since as a key member of Penske’s clan. While JPM’s financial success isn’t important in the context of his remote control hobby, his chosen outlet for expression through little motorized playthings says a lot about his value system.
Peruse Instagram for a few minutes, and some of his contemporaries–many who’ve earned far less—are profiling next to a six-figure car they’ve purchased, or performed a grand expression of wealth while posing with an opulent watch or piece jewelry on their wrist. According to how the world makes sense to Montoya as a father and husband, those material trappings are a waste.
“I don’t care what it is,” he said. “There’s this little drone with a camera on it that you can fly around your house and just have fun. That’s all it is. You could spend a fortune getting a giant one, but why? You can go crazy on this stuff, spend crazy money, but why? I really don’t care about all that. I like to have nice things, but I don’t need to be stupid to prove it. And I don’t like putting all that stuff out there. We’re just trying to have fun, you know? It’s not all about the price of things.”
The 1999 CART IndyCar champion has a rather amazing collection of personal racecars, and that’s where his interest comes to an abrupt halt. In Montoya’s typical blunt-hilarious way, he explains the reasoning behind the sub-par road car inventory.
“Someone just asked me if I have any cool road cars and I told them I don’t, because compared to the racecars I drive, they all drive like shit. They really do. Think about it. If you take a fancy road car and put it on a racetrack, it handles like shit,” he said.
“That’s why I have a Formula 1 car, a NASCAR, and an Indy car. I have my  championship car, I have the Formula 1 car I won my last race with Williams from Brazil [in 2004], and I have a Cup car. What am I gonna buy to drive that’s going to excite me more than those? There’s nothing so I don’t even try.”
In a shared driving attribute with Senna, Montoya’s car control is an otherworldly thing to experience. Where most of us dream of visiting the ragged edge in an F1 or Indy car for a fleeting corner or two of glory, Montoya has been a permanent resident in that zone for decades. It could explain why his fast reflexes (barring the helicopter crashes) are a perfect fit for a wide array of remote control adventures.
“Rick Mears is big into RC as well,” he said of the legendary four-time Indy 500. “It’s about the hand-eye side of things, and you have to have a feel for what it’s doing. If you can drive a racecar well, RC should come to you pretty quickly, I’d think. Or it should, at least. I have boats that do 60 miles an hour. I have a 1/5th-scale buggy, a Baja truck, and you can jump anything with that. The only thing I don’t have is a submarine. But it’s the same thing, really. It’s the same type of challenge, but more relaxing.”
It doesn’t come with the same publicity attached to Tom Brady having 12 custom Aston Martins made bearing his name, but Montoya was quite pleased to be acknowledged by Horizon Hobby with a hand-painted plane he was asked to produce as a giveaway item on their website.
For a guy with 1.2 million Twitter followers, you get the feeling being recognized by the comparatively tiny remote control community holds the higher value.
“I went to Horizon to their headquarters and did a ton of flying, and the plane I did for them, it’s not that big, maybe two feet long, and they’re an electric version of the pro race planes,” he beamed. “It’s cool because before they came with the same paint scheme, and now they come in white foam and it was fun to paint one and do that giveaway with them. It’s the simple things that matter, right?”