Indy 500 rookie Carlos Munoz hits front row

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So far, Indianapolis 500 rookie Carlos Munoz is making this IndyCar thing look easy.

Munoz is making his big-league debut in the 97th running of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing, but there’s been no sign of first-time jitters for the young Colombian. Driving a fifth car for Andretti Autosport (the team he races for in IndyCar’s top feeder series, Firestone Indy Lights), he carried over the impressive speed he had in this week’s practice sessions and shot to the inside of the front row for next week’s “500” with an average of 228.342 miles per hour.

“I don’t have too many words to describe how happy I am, just a rookie to be in the front row, [it’s] just a dream,” said Munoz, who will be joined on the front row by another Andretti Autosport teammate, Marco Andretti (third, 228.261 mph). “I was like crossing my fingers that it rained [so] we can stay in the front row. I was happy with the car in the first qualifying [session], but we did a couple of changes and it worked out.

“…We didn’t expect [pole winner Ed] Carpenter to go so fast. He just did really good laps out there. I can’t say anything – just front row is perfect for the race. I have my teammate just on the side of me, I have great people around me with a lot of experience.”

Next weekend will be a busy one for Munoz as he’ll be migrating back and forth between his “500” duties and the Indy Lights series. On Thursday, the Lights camp will practice and qualify in preparation for their biggest race of the year, the Firestone Freedom 100, which will take place during Friday’s Carb Day festivities (Noon ET, NBC Sports Network). As the current FIL championship leader, Munoz will be participating.

However, while he admits that the weekend will be a trying one for him, he remains confident that he’ll be able to start up front in both events and perform well when it’s time to go racing.

“It’s going to be tough doing 600 miles in one weekend, but I think we have perfect cars in both Indy Lights and IndyCar, so I’m going to be hopefully in the front row in both categories,” he said.

F1 2017 driver review: Carlos Sainz Jr.

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Carlos Sainz Jr.

Teams: Scuderia Toro Rosso (1-16), Renault (17-20)
Car No.: 33
Races: 20
Wins: 0
Podiums: 0
Best Finish: P4 (Singapore)
Pole Positions: 0
Fastest Laps: 0
Points: 54
Championship Position: 9th

Carlos Sainz Jr. has always been compared to Max Verstappen given their relative rise and stint together at Toro Rosso, but the Spaniard began to forge his own impressive path through 2017, securing himself a works drive with Renault in the process.

Alongside the struggling Daniil Kvyat for much of the season, Sainz led Toro Rosso’s charge, scoring 48 of its 53 points with a string of impressive drives. His headline moment came in Singapore when he matched Verstappen’s best result in Toro Rosso colors by finishing fourth, capitalizing on the start-line crash and the wet weather with a strong display.

Sainz’s displays led to a call from Renault, who announced just two days before his star display in Singapore he would be joining up for 2018 on loan from Red Bull. However, the deal was accelerated after a deal was brokered to secure Jolyon Palmer’s departure, allowing Sainz to join up from the United States GP onwards.

Sainz made an immediate impression, completing a perfect race en route to seventh on debut for Renault to secure six points that would prove crucial in the final constructors’ championship standings as the French team beat Toro Rosso to P6 in the standings at the last race of the year.

Red Bull retains an option on Sainz’s future beyond 2018, making him a candidate for a seat with its senior team should Daniel Ricciardo opt to leave. Failing that, Renault could offer Sainz the platform he needs to continue his rapid rise in F1 and establish himself at the front of the pack for many years to come.

Season High: Finishing fourth in Singapore after dodging the start-line drama.

Season Low: Crashing out in his final Toro Rosso appearance on the first lap at Suzuka.