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.”

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.”