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.

Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.