Carlos Munoz salvages day for Andretti team with podium run

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On a day where Andretti Autosport had two of its biggest threats for a Long Beach win erased in one fell swoop, its youngest pilot made sure that the team would still get represented on the podium.

Colombian driver Carlos Munoz became the first of the Verizon IndyCar Series’ quartet of rookies to score a podium this season with a third-place finish.

However, it’s not his first career IndyCar podium as he finished runner-up to Tony Kanaan in last year’s Indianapolis 500 while driving a fifth, part-time car for Andretti.

Munoz admitted that today wasn’t the ideal way he’d like to earn a podium, nodding to the multi-car incident that enveloped veteran teammates Ryan Hunter-Reay and James Hinchcliffe on Lap 54.

Hunter-Reay was looking to pass Josef Newgarden for the lead in Turn 4, but instead made contact with him. Both went into the wall and collected Hinchcliffe.

Tony Kanaan and Takuma Sato were also eliminated in the wreck. Another rookie, Jack Hawksworth, and Helio Castroneves were involved as well but ultimately finished the race.

Munoz, however, was able to miss the accident and took the subsequent restart with 16 laps remaining in fifth place.

He had taken fourth from Juan Pablo Montoya before Graham Rahal brought out the yellow again with 13 to go, and he then moved up to third when leader Scott Dixon pitted for fuel with two laps remaining – which enabled Mike Conway to eventually secure the win.

“I think [the result] means more for the team, and a lot [more] confidence for me that I know I can fight with the top guys,” the Colombian said. “…It gives me confidence [that] I know I can be also really fast on tracks and on the road courses.

“Right now, I think we aren’t really happy with what happened with Ryan and James, but for sure, we’re going to be ready for Barber.”

Speaking of the next race on the Verizon IndyCar Series schedule, Munoz is confident that he can perform well on the challenging Barber Motorsports Park circuit in Alabama.

He won there last season in the Indy Lights circuit, and Hunter-Reay will go into the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama on Apr. 27 as its defending champion.

“I was struggling there [in the recent test] because the Indy Lights [car doesn’t have] as much downforce as the IndyCar,” he said in reference to the ‘Spring Training’ test at Barber back in March. “But I think for the weekend, I’m going to be great.

“My teammates were fast, and we have a good history there at Barber with Ryan winning there last year. So for sure, we’re going to have a good base car to start with…It’s a hard track to pass [on], so the qualifying is going to be key for that race.”

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.