When Carlos Munoz was announced as a sixth Andretti Autosport driver for the 2018 Indianapolis 500, the response from fans was generally positive. The only place where you could find more optimism was speaking with Munoz himself.
In reuniting with Andretti Autosport for an Indianapolis one-off, the Colombian driver makes the most of an unfortunate situation following his swift departure from A.J. Foyt Racing. In a year filled with many trial and error runs – and a lot more error than one would prefer – Munoz never completely settled in with the Chevrolet-based Foyt team.
A return to Andretti Autosport brings a sense of comfort and familiarity that the 25-year-old Munoz sorely missed.
“Just really excited to work again with all my teammates, with Alex, with Marco, and with Ryan,” Munoz said. “Even though we were not together last year as teammates, I think we (have) come even closer together than when I was with them as a teammate.”
By enduring that difficult 2017 season, Munoz truly believes that it has made him more of the “complete package” that teams should be looking for.
From becoming a leader, to developing a better grip on the technical aspects of competition, and even communicating his setup critiques more efficiently, the trials and tribulations of the last year have made a positive impact on Munoz’ outlook as a driver in IndyCar.
“Even though last year was a tough year, I think it helped me a lot,” said Munoz. “I think I’m twice (the) better driver than I was one year ago because having a different role as a driver – to be more involved with the team, with the technical (aspects) – I learned so much engineering-wise last year.”
While a full-season program would be preferred, an Indianapolis-only deal for Munoz gives him the best bang for his buck, so to speak. In five Indianapolis 500 starts, the Colombian has 3 top-five finishes including runner-up in 2013 as a rookie and in 2016. This past May, he muscled an inferior A.J. Foyt Racing entry to a 10th place finish after starting 24th.
Taking pride in previous results on large ovals, Munoz acknowledges his successful track record and recognizes that a ride with Andretti at the Indianapolis 500 provides him with a remarkable chance at victory, even as a one-off driver.
“On ovals, you know, I’ve been really good,” he said. “I think I showed also last year I (had) some good results at Pocono, I was driving well at Texas.
“I don’t know, ever since my first time, my first year in Indianapolis I finished second because of a yellow. When I was overtaking the first guy, (there) was a crash, so I think that place owes me a little bit for sure a victory. I’ve been so close a lot of times for winning it.”
Driving for Andretti Autosport has given many drivers over the past decade an excellent chance at winning the Indianapolis 500. Since 2005, the team has had a hand in five race-winning programs at Indy. That is more than powerhouses Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske have accounted for, as those two teams have tallied three wins each.
When considering the learning curve presented by the new aero kit, it is more valuable than ever to bring a fleet of drivers to Indianapolis next May in order to test as many setup nuances as possible. While most teams will have two or three cars at Indy, Andretti Autosport will have six drivers running under their banner in 2018.
For Munoz, he sees that as the greatest advantage of all heading into the next Month of May.
“I think that’s going to be really, really good for us,” exclaimed Munoz. “One week we can test different stuff – roll centers, wheel base, different dampers. A lot of things we can change in six cars, (and it) makes that much easier. Each car can take one direction differently, then at the end of the day, take the best direction of the fastest guy from our teammates.”
Starting with the Indianapolis 500, Munoz hopes to build on his appearance with Andretti Autosport by adding additional races following the Month of May. He says that right now the focus is on the ‘500, but following Indy the group will “start working to try to do other races.”
“I want to keep my focus in IndyCar,” Munoz says. “I’m still young, 25 years old … I have some work to do, like win the ‘500, to win more races, to be fighting, for sure. Right now my main focus is IndyCar, so we’ll see what happens next year.
“I wanted to be with Andretti; that was my number one priority. If it was full season, or the (Indianapolis) 500, I know I have a car to win it. Those were my two priorities… After we sign the ‘500 with the best team, then we start working to see if we can do other races or other championships.”
Regardless of what is in the cards for a full-time ride, Munoz has less than five months to prepare for Indianapolis. Understanding that he has a legitimate shot at winning the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, his thoughts and ambitions are consumed by the desire to taste milk on Memorial Day weekend.
“The thing I want (is) to fight for the win, that’s for sure,” he says confidently. “It’s always easy to say, ‘let’s go for the win,’ but it takes more than that.
“Just go step by step, day by day. On the day of the race, we’ll see if we’re in position to fight for the win.”