Carlos Munoz salvages day for Andretti team with podium run


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.”

F1 Preview: 2018 Australian Grand Prix

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Save for two occasions, in 2006, and 2010, the Australian Grand Prix has served as the season-opening event for the FIA Formula 1 World Championship since 1996, and this weekend’s event will be the 21st time that the city of Melbourne has kicked off the Formula 1 campaign.

The 2018 season is the fifth one of the current hybrid power unit era, the second season of the current aero regulations, and the second under Liberty Media’s guidance.

Last year saw titans Mercedes AMG Petronas and Scuderia Ferrari duel for supremacy for most of the season before Mercedes distanced Ferrari late in the season to take the constructor’s title and the driver’s title, with Lewis Hamilton, who is now tied with Sebastian Vettel on four world championships apiece.

Four drivers on the grid have Formula 1 world championships to their name: Hamilton, Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen, and Fernando Alonso. Scuderia Toro Rosso’s Brendon Hartley also has a world championship to his name as a two-time titlist in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

So, what can viewers expect from the 2018 curtain-raiser in Australia? A handful of things to watch are below?

2018 Australian Grand Prix – Talking Points

Does Anyone Have Anything for Mercedes?

Only on one day during pre-season testing did a Mercedes driver lead the way – Lewis Hamilton was fastest on the final day of Week 1 at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya.

However, all indications were that was by design, with the team focusing the majority of the second week, if not the entire second week, on long runs with their W09 EQ Power+ chassis.

Such a decision is an ominous one, in that it indicates the team is very comfortable with the amount of speed in the car and did not see a need, or desire, to show their hand during testing.

With that in mind, the Mercedes duo of Hamilton and Valtteri Bottas may yet again have the best and fastest cars, and the team looks poised to potentially make it five constructor’s and driver’s championships in a row.

Ferrari and Red Bull Look to End Mercedes Reign

The biggest threats to Mercedes are undoubtedly Ferrari and Red Bull, the only other teams to win in 2017.

And both teams displayed a lot of pace during testing, particularly in the “one-lap speed” category. Ricciardo set a lap record around the Catalunya circuit during the second week, only for Vettel to supplant that mark later in the week. Teammate Kimi Raikkonen led the way during the final day of testing.

It is unknown how that pace will translate over the course of a race distance. Mercedes appeared to have an edge on both Ferrari and Red Bull over long runs and race simulations, but there is also a theory that neither Ferrari nor Red Bull had their true long-run form on display.

Still, if a team is going to knock off Mercedes, it will likely be either Ferrari or Red Bull.

McLaren on the Rebound?

Put simply, the previous three seasons for McLaren F1 Team were a bit of a disaster. Their partnership with Honda yielded point totals of 27 (2015), 76 (2016), and 30 (2017) in a three-year venture that was defined by poor reliability and underwhelming power.

The relationship hit a boiling point last year and both entities parted ways ahead of the 2018 season, with McLaren signing a new power unit deal with Renault.

Testing went better than in previous years, though the team continued to battle reliability problems. However, all issues appeared to be minor, needling issues rather than more significant, foundational problems, as the other Renault teams (Red Bull and Renault Sport F1 Team) had solid runs with few reliability issues.

The car does appear to have speed in it, so if the reliability problems are behind them, McLaren could be in for a rebound season.

Stuck in the Midfield Again

Formula 1’s battle amongst the midfield is set to be as fierce as ever as a host of a several teams have a chance at being “best of the rest.”

Sahara Force India has been the frontrunner from the the midfield teams each of the last two years, finishing fourth in the constructor’s title in both 2016 and 2017, though if the steady conflict between drivers Esteban Ocon and Sergio Perez continues through 2018, it could hamper their efforts significantly.

Renault Sport F1 Team and Haas F1 Team look to improve on their 2017 form, while Toro Rosso is in a new partnership with Honda power units…and has experienced a surprisingly smooth pre-season as Honda’s 2018 platform looks significantly better, with the team enjoying a solid run of testing with few, if any, reliability problems.

Williams Martini Racing and Alfa Romeo Sauber appear to be at the back of the pack entering the season, but both could battle for points finishes if those ahead of them falter.