INDIANAPOLIS – It seems that every year there is a talented, young driver that quickly finds his groove around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and stands out from the other neophytes as they prepare for their first Indianapolis 500.
Last year, that honor belonged to Josef Newgarden and Bryan Clauson – two young American race drivers that were among the fastest drivers in the week of practice leading up to Pole Day for the 2012 Indianapolis 500.
This year it’s Colombia’s Carlos Munoz, a Firestone Indy Lights driver who has been impressive in the first two days of practice for the 97th Indianapolis 500 on May 26.
Munoz easily breezed through his Rookie Orientation Program on Saturday which allowed him to compete with the veterans later that day. In the first full day of practice Munoz showed the rest of the field his rear wing as the he was the fastest driver in the six hours of practice for the Indy 500.
Munoz ran a total of 70 laps Sunday with his fast lap of 223.023 mph on the 63rd lap in a Dallara/Chevrolet for Andretti Autosport. That was faster than teammate and defending IZOD IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay’s lap of 222.825 mph in another Dallara/Chevrolet.
“It is nice to be in the top (of the charts),” Munoz said. “It was in the tow, and I think I had a little bit better tow than my teammates. But, for sure, we have a long ways to go. I’m still learning a lot, especially on the grooves. I have a great car. It allowed me to be more confident. I have great teammates that helped me a lot. They say to me what I am doing wrong or stuff like that.”
Munoz even showed some of his “off-road” racing skills when he was involved in a traffic issue with teammate Marco Andretti in turn one. Munoz even got in the grass but was able to keep control of his high-speed race car.
“It was just a misunderstanding,” Munoz said. “Inside the turn I went into the dirt; it was close. In the race, I’m going to have those situations. I had two tires in the grass, so I was lucky to continue. After that, I was more comfortable behind the guys.”
After winning his first series championship last year for Andretti Autosport, next up on the list for Hunter-Reay is a victory in the Indianapolis 500. He showed some great speed on Sunday but admits most of that was when all five Andretti Autosport cars were on the track at the same time late in the afternoon while they were making race preparation runs to see how the cars handle in traffic.
“It’s just so great to be back at Indy,” Hunter-Reay said. “The feeling the first day on track is pretty special. Andretti Autosport has had a good season so far, and we certainly had a strong run. But all of that has nothing to do with Indy. You start over here. We really don’t know where we stack up yet compared to everybody because we haven’t had a full field out there yet. Today was a good day to just check some things off the list and run through some of the bigger changes, trying to understand a few things that we were looking at during the winter.
“Then we had a chance to run with the teammates, which was kind of interesting at times. It was fun, though. It was fun just getting back in that rhythm of running in traffic at Indy. This place is so special for so many reasons. It really drives like no other racetrack. It was good to get back in it, shake a little rust off at Indy and get ready for the week. With these cars, the way IndyCar is now, you have no idea who’s done what in the offseason. To tell you the truth, what we saw last year from Ganassi and Honda, you had no idea that was going to happen on Race Day. I think qualifying will be one show, then the race. You have no idea what anybody has until you get there.”