Andretti Autosport driver Carlos Munoz of Colombia drives practice laps on the second day of qualifications in Indianapolis

Rookie Carlos Munoz: Indy’s biggest surprise to date this year

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A little more than one month ago, only the most ardent of IndyCar observers had heard of, or really paid attention to, Andretti Autosport Indianapolis 500 rookie Carlos Munoz.

Now, mere days before the 97th running of the Greatest Spectacle in Racing, the Colombian is probably the month of May’s biggest surprise.

Munoz really came on towards the end of last Indy Lights season driving for Andretti, posting a pair of wins in Edmonton and Fontana. He’s a championship favorite this season, with wins already at Barber and Long Beach and searching for his third in a row Friday in the Firestone Freedom 100.

Oh, and he starts second in the 500 on Sunday. It’s the same accomplishment as his countryman, Juan Pablo Montoya, achieved in 2000 – Montoya went on to win the race.

Munoz is the fourth driver to race in both IndyCar and Indy Lights at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in the same month. He had his first IndyCar test at Texas in March, and described his preparation for the month of May during the Long Beach weekend.

“I had had a really good day (in Texas), and I got very comfortable in the car,” Munoz told me at Long Beach. “I knew we had to go step-by-step; learn the track, learn the car and everything. We got faster and faster but I knew we had a really good car for the Indy 500.”

Easy for him to say at the time, but him following through in reality was a tough ask. So far, Munoz has passed with flying colors.

Running an aggressive line through Turn 1, Munoz has flirted with disaster with entering late and then diving underneath the white line. But it appears to be working. He’s stepped into a car, the No. 26 Unistraw Chevrolet, that has been among – if not the – quickest of the five-car Andretti armada this month.

“In the beginning, I was really nervous about it. But once I was in the car, everything was clear,” Munoz said after qualifying for the 500. “It seems easier on the TV. For four laps you have to be really precise each lap. If you turn a little bit later or a little bit earlier, the whole car is different.”

Thursday marked the first time this month Munoz shifted back to his regular car in Indy Lights. He qualified second there, as well, behind Sage Karam. The focus Friday shifts solely to Lights, even though there’s Carb Day practice for IndyCar beforehand.

“We had so much fun last year in that race because we were overtaking all the time,” Munoz said Thursday. “But I am going one-by-one. I am focusing first with Indy Lights – then I will focus on the Indy 500.”

Formula 1 chief’s mother-in-law missing in Brazil

MONTREAL, QC - JUNE 10:  F1 supremo Bernie Ecclestone looks on in the paddock during practice for the Canadian Formula One Grand Prix at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve on June 9, 2016 in Montreal, Canada.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) Brazilian police say they are investigating the apparent disappearance of the mother-in-law of Formula 1 chief Bernie Ecclestone.

A police official speaking on the condition of anonymity tells The Associated Press that authorities are trying to find 67-year-old Aparecida Schunck. The official has knowledge of the investigation but is not allowed to speak publicly.

Several Brazilian news outlets have reported that Schunck was kidnapped in Sao Paulo on Friday. However, the police official said Wednesday that investigators are looking into other possibilities as well as kidnapping, though he would not specify.

Friends of Ecclestone’s wife Fabiana Flosi, reached by the AP, declined comment. Formula 1 did not return messages seeking comment.

Schunck is Flosi’s mother. Ecclestone met Flosi at a Brazilian Grand Prix and married her in 2012.

Acura NSX GT3 confirms U.S. public test debut, Kox at Mid-Ohio

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Photo: Acura
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Acura has confirmed the first portion of its program for its new-for-2017 Acura NSX GT3, with a test program announced to run before this weekend’s races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

“It will make its public testing debut Thursday and Friday,” HPD president Art St. Cyr said during a teleconference. “First with the promoter test session in the morning, as well as Friday’s World Challenge GT practice session (4:15 p.m. ET and local time).

“We also want to announce Peter Kox will be the NSX GT3 development driver. He’s already given us great feedback. Has driven lots of GT3 cars. Peter will drive in both practice and test sessions this weekend.

“He’s contracted through RealTime Racing – more than 20-year partner – they’re the team currently campaigning the TLX-GT.

“Way back in March when we debuted NSX GT3, it was our intention to seek FIA homologation, and campaign it in 2017… we are on track to make those targets.

“The car that will be shown is a development car. This is not the final version.

“So far our testing program in U.S. has been testing in Europe and Japan as well. First time here at Mid-Ohio.

“We want to see how our car stacks up against the competition. We’ll send it to Ledoux test for homologation in September.

“The NSX will reside in the RealTime paddock.

“I would be remiss in not thanking the World Challenge series for hosting the NSX, because without their approval, we couldn’t run it on track this weekend.”

Andretti’s Indy Lights trio will test IndyCars at Watkins Glen

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Blackstock (51), Kellett (28) and Stoneman to test IndyCar. Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography
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One of the MS Amlin Andretti FIA Formula E Championship drivers, Robin Frijns, had his first day in an IndyCar last week at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

Next month, all three of the team’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires drivers will have their first days in an IndyCar on August 11 at Watkins Glen International.

Dean Stoneman, Dalton Kellett and Shelby Blackstock will step into the No. 28 DHL Honda, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda and No. 27 Snapple Honda cars, respectively, for the test. The trio will share with the team’s full-season drivers, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Carlos Munoz and Marco Andretti, while Alexander Rossi will have a full day in the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda after also completing a Firestone test there in June.

_9SG4610-LStoneman, who seems determined to graduate into the Verizon IndyCar Series in 2017, looks forward to now having an IndyCar outing to join his Formula 1 test for Williams.

“Can’t wait to get into Ryan’s car for the IndyCar test at Watkins Glen. To be there testing at an iconic US circuit will be great.” Stoneman said. “I have been watching the big guys all season so I’m going to enjoy finally testing one.

“I came to Indy Lights with a view of moving up to IndyCar, which has always been the goal that I’m working on for 2017, so the test will give everybody some indication of my ability. In 2010 I was invited to test Williams F1 car in Abu Dhabi and seemed to really impress everyone, so I’m hoping we can do the same sort of job with Andretti as I look to next year.”

Mazda Road to Indy veterans Blackstock and Kellett, meanwhile, will reach the pinnacle of the ladder with their first IndyCar test days. Blackstock has track experience of Watkins Glen in sports cars, albeit not on the repaved surface.

04CJ0415-L“I have a lot of history at Watkins Glen and it brings back a lot of great memories just saying the name,” said Blackstock. “Seven years ago I went to The Glen as part of the Jim Click’s Mustang Challenge team as a crew member. It was the first road course race I had ever been to and it was an eye opener. I did every job possible on the team in one weekend, but that’s where my journey at The Glen (and in racing) started.

“Over the years, I’ve been a crew member, raced Skip Barber and CTSCC (Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge) there and now several years later after entering the track for the first time, I finally get to do my first Indy car test there. Words can’t describe how excited I am for this opportunity to finally get to drive my dream car. This is my fifth year at Andretti Autosport after completing the entire MRTI (Mazda Road To Indy) program with them and now finally getting to test one of their Indy cars! I can’t thank Michael and Andretti Autosport enough for giving me this opportunity and I can’t wait to get on track!”

2B3A0687-LKellett added, “I am extremely excited for my first Indy car test and I am very grateful to do so with Andretti Autosport. There are going to be differences between the Indy Lights car and the Indy car for me to adapt to. I expect the biggest adjustments will be getting used to the braking and cornering performance.

“The Indy car is going to be much more physically demanding, but I have been training hard and I feel like I am prepared. I’m also looking forward to learning the pit procedures and feeling the increase in power. I haven’t raced or tested at The Glen so this will be a complete learning experience for me, with a new car and new track. I am happy to be able to learn from and work with Andretti Autosport for this amazing opportunity.”

Rosberg has “massive buzz” upon returning to Germany

HOCKENHEIM, GERMANY - JULY 20:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP celebrates in Parc Ferme after victory in the German Grand Prix at Hockenheimring on July 20, 2014 in Hockenheim, Germany.  (Photo by Dan Istitene/Getty Images)
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Home race wins have become the norm for the Mercedes AMG Petronas teammates, with Lewis Hamilton having won the last three British Grands Prix dating to 2014 and Nico Rosberg winning the most recent German Grand Prix in 2014 at Hockenheim.

After its year off the calendar last year and with Rosberg needing a win to stop Hamilton’s recent surge of momentum, a home race return might be coming at the perfect time.

Rosberg lost the World Championship lead for the first time this year after coming second to Hamilton in Hungary last week, and would recapture it this weekend with a sixth win this year.

“It was disappointing to lose the race at the first corner in Hungary. But I was really happy with my pace all weekend, so that gives me good confidence moving forwards,” Rosberg said ahead of this week’s German Grand Prix.

“I’m happy to have the chance to get back in the car again so soon – and especially happy that it’s at my second home race,” he added.

Rosberg recently had the chance to sample one of Mika Hakkinen’s championship-winning Mercedes-powered McLarens a few weeks ago and he hopes that, along with Hakkinen saying earlier this year that Rosberg was “ready to win a World Championship,” will give him a home race boost.

“I had a fantastic day at Hockenheim a few weeks ago driving Mika Hakkinen’s championship-winning car. That really gave me a massive buzz to be back racing in Germany.

“Driving in through the circuit gates brought so many great memories – from my childhood days at the DTM with my Dad right through to winning the Grand Prix for myself in 2014.

“Hopefully I can repeat that this year for the fans and for everybody at Mercedes. After this race it’s a well-earned break for the team, too. I’ll be pushing flat out to give them the result they deserve before they get some time to recharge their batteries.”

Rosberg also recently signed a two-year extension with Mercedes through 2018.