Juan Pablo's Eyes in the Sky for Indy 500 Knows Her Way around the Track

·6 min read
Photo credit: Alastair Staley
Photo credit: Alastair Staley
  • This year marks the fifth time that the 28-year-old Ayla Agren, a native of Norway, has served as spotter for a driver in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing.

  • In last year’s race, she was a spotter for Paretta Autosport driver Simona De Silvestro.

  • She’s also previously spotted in the 500 for drivers such as Pippa Mann and Ben Hanley.

When Juan Pablo Montoya takes the green flag in the 106th Running of the Indianapolis 500, Ayla Agren will firmly tell him where he can go.

Agren, a reserve driver in the all-female W Series, will serve as one of two spotters for Montoya as he attempts to earn his third Indy 500 victory.

“One of the things I really enjoy about working with Juan is that he knows what he wants,” Agren told Autoweek. “Yes, he can come across as demanding, but at the end of the day, we're all here because we want to win.

“And it's way easier to help someone when they tell you what they want vs. ‘Oh no, everything's okay’ and then it maybe wasn't the way they wanted it, but they were too scared of saying anything. So I've really enjoyed it and I'm trying to learn as much as possible from him and help him in any way I can.”

Photo credit: Dom Romney
Photo credit: Dom Romney

Sunday marks the fifth time that the 28-year-old Agren, a native of Norway, has served as spotter for a driver in the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. In last year’s race, she was a spotter for Paretta Autosport driver Simona De Silvestro. She’s also previously spotted in the 500 for drivers such as Pippa Mann and Ben Hanley.

Agren’s ability atop the spotter stand caught the attention of Arrow McLaren SP officials and her name was presented to Montoya as a potential spotter candidate and he concurred with the decision. That’s how Agren will find herself on race day atop the Turn 3 spotter stand.

She will be responsible to keep tabs on Montoya as he exits pit road and returns to the track past the exit of Turn 2, then watching him lap by lap from the exit of Turn 1 until he enters Turn 4. She will also direct him onto pit road when he needs to stop for service. Another spotter will guide Montoya while he’s on-track from Turn 4 until he exits Turn 1, then Agren will again take over.

“Juan wanted help blending out of pit lane and back on the track, and that’s what I’ve been doing a lot with other drivers I’ve been working with,” said Agren, who had not known Montoya prior to this month in Indy. “That’s where the pairing came and the team was comfortable putting me with a veteran like him and that’s how it all came about.”

Agren is one of only a few female spotters in motorsports.

Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images
Photo credit: Icon Sportswire - Getty Images

“I've worked with only one other female spotter, Linda Conti,” Agren said. “I worked with her a little bit last season with the Paretta Autosport team. But apart from that, it's me and the rest of the guys in the corner. They've all been super welcoming and helpful. It's a really good community and everyone's there to help each other out and keep everyone safe.”

Even though spotting and coaching pays the bills, Agren hasn’t given up on her regular day job as a race car driver herself.

She’s quite familiar already with Indy-style racing. From 2012 through 2017 she competed in several series including the Skip Barber F2000 Summer Series in 2012, the F1600 Championship Series in 2013 and 2014, and parts of three seasons in the U.S. F2000 Road to Indy Series from 2015-2017 until funding issues significantly cut into her own driving career for the next two seasons.

Her best season in any of those series was 2014, when she won the F1600 Championship, capturing three wins and eight podiums in 14 starts. The year before that, she finished fourth in the same series while driving for Bryan Herta Autosport. Herta, of course, is the father of IndyCar star Colton Herta and is also part-owner of Andretti Autosport.

She missed the 2020 season when the global coronavirus pandemic shut down most racing series, but returned in 2021 in the W Series as one of the drivers for M. Forbes Motorsport, competing in eight events (best finishes were ninth at Circuit of the Americas and 10th in Austria), as well as raced in several sports car events in Europe.

She hopes to be called back into full-time action as a W Series regular this season and has aspirations of her own to one day return to Indianapolis Motor Speedway not as a spotter for the Indy 500, but as one of the 33 competitors in the race day field.

“Of course, that's why I moved over to the U.S.,” Agren said. “I still want to drive more than ever. I don't know if envy is the right word, but I feel like spotting is the closest thing you can be when you're not in the car, but still be a part of how the race can go from a driving standpoint. So it's one of the reasons I really liked it.”

She then adds with a chuckle, “But I would obviously much prefer being in the car myself.”

Photo credit: Zak Mauger
Photo credit: Zak Mauger

“IndyCar has always been my goal and dream, ever since I was little,” Agren said. “It would have been when I was about 10 or 11 (years old) and Danica (Patrick) led the Indy 500 and that made the news in Norway. I thought, like, that looks cool and it was one of the things that was eye-opening to me.

“Then I started watching IndyCar from Europe and I just really enjoyed watching the three different aspects of the racetracks they race on, racing on ovals, street courses and road courses. And I really enjoyed that as a championship, and that to become a champion you have to do well on all three. So that's kind of where my aspirations have always been.”

If Montoya does win his third Indy 500, obviously Agren will play a bit part of it, telling him what other cars are around him and in general keeping him out of trouble on-track.

And if he does wind up taking the checkered flag?

“Oh, gosh, I'm getting chills just thinking about it,” Agren said. “It would be mind-blowing. I think it would be just an immense opportunity for everyone that was a part of it. I’m crossing my fingers.”

Follow Autoweek contributor Jerry Bonkowski on Twitter @JerryBonkowski