Munoz, Allmendinger impress in their Indy 500 debuts

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Considering the manic amount of lead changing that took place during the 97th Indianapolis 500, it’s possible to assume that Andretti Autosport rookie Carlos Munoz (pictured, right) could have won the biggest race in the world.

Munoz had already impressed with his front-row start for today’s race, but then went even further by staying a legitimate threat to win the “500” throughout the day. The Colombian, who races for Andretti’s Firestone Indy Lights squad, went along with Tony Kanaan past Ryan Hunter-Reay on the final restart with three laps to go.

Any hopes of somehow defeating the former IZOD IndyCar Series champion went away when Dario Franchitti’s crash between Turns 1 and 2 ended the race under yellow with Kanaan as the winner and Munoz in second. But it was still a phenomenal effort from Munoz, who has to be making team owner Michael Andretti wonder about bringing him back to the big leagues for at least a few more races this year.

“I really wanted to fight for the win,” said Munoz. “Maybe I could win, maybe not, but I really wanted to fight. I have nothing to be ashamed of. To be second and a rookie and the best [finisher] of the team is a great job. At the beginning, I was a little bit nervous with the pit stops but in the end, the car was great and it’s a good second place.

“Hopefully in the future, I will be able to drink milk. Right now, I’m thirsty, but hopefully, it’s in the future for me.”

Also having a great day in his first ‘500’ was A.J. Allmendinger, who led three times for 23 laps and finished seventh for Team Penske. The former Champ Car star initially fell back into the field in the opening stages, but bounced back and took the lead on Lap 98. His time at the front, however, came to an abrupt end when his seat belt came undone and he was forced to go to pit road on Lap 113 to sort it out.

“I guess it’s God’s way of saying, ‘Maybe you’re not going to win it your first time,'” said Allmendinger. “…Maybe it was because my heart was beating too hard from leading the race. But it came undone. I tried to do it down the back straightaway. I tried to loose it back up and stick it back in, but it wasn’t going to happen.”

Allmendinger went down a lap but managed to regain it and made his way right back to the point at Lap 137. Unfortunately for him, the seat belt stop had an adverse effect on his pit strategy for the second half of the “500.”

“It killed our pit windows [for] the rest of the race,” he said. “That last stop [on Lap 173], we barely got into our pit window. The pit stop was long just for the mere fact we had to get it completely full of fuel while all of those guys had a little bit shorter stops.”

At least Allmendinger has another race to look forward to for Team Penske. He’ll race in next weekend’s doubleheader at Detroit’s Belle Isle Park – and his work at Indy this afternoon may have gotten him a few more runs with Penske as well.

Neuville wins Rally Australia; Ogier takes FIA WRC title

Sebastien Ogier. Photo: Getty Images
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COFFS HARBOUR, Australia (AP) Belgium’s Thierry Neuville won Rally Australia by 22.5 seconds on Sunday as torrential rain added drama to the last day of the last race of the World Rally Championship season.

Neuville entered the final day with an almost 20 second advantage after inheriting the rally lead Saturday when his Hyundai teammate, defending champion Andreas Mikkelsen crashed and was forced to retire for the day.

His lead was halved by Jari-Matti Latvala early Sunday as monsoon-like rain made conditions treacherous on muddy forest stages on the New South Wales coast. The rain stopped on the short Wedding Bells stage where Neuville was almost 5 seconds quicker than his rivals, stretching his lead to 14.7 seconds entering the last stage.

COFFS HARBOUR, AUSTRALIA – NOVEMBER 17: Thierry Neuville of Belgium and Nicolas Gilsoul of Belgium compete in their Hyundai Motorsport WRT Hyundai i20 coupe WRC during Day One of the WRC Australia on November 17, 2017 in COFFS HARBOUR, Australia. (Photo by Massimo Bettiol/Getty Images)

That stage was full of incident. The driver’s door on Neuville’s Hyundai i20 coupe swung open in the middle of the stage and Neuville had to slam it closed as he approached a corner.

Latvala’s Toyota then crashed seconds from the end of the stage, allowing Estonia’s Ott Tanak, in a Ford, to take second place overall and New Zealalnd’s Haydon Paddon, in a Hyundai, to sneak into third.

Sebastian Ogier was fourth after winning the final, power stage but the Frenchman had already clinched his fifth world title before Rally Australia began. Neuville’s win was his fourth of the season, two more than Ogier, and was enough to give him second place in world drivers’ standings for the third time in five years.

Ogier owed his drivers’ title to his consistency: he retired only once and finished no worse than fifth all season.

Neuville admitted the last day was touch and go as the rain made some stages perilous, forcing the cancellation of the second to last stage.

“That was a hell of a ride,” Neuville said. “Really, really tricky conditions.

“I kept the car on the road but it was close sometimes. I knew I could make a difference but I had to be clever. You lose grip, you lose control and the car doesn’t respond to your input.”