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Munoz happy to be back with Andretti Autosport for Indy 500

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The 102nd running of the Indianapolis 500 represents a reunion of sorts for Carlos Munoz, as he’ll be returning to the Andretti Autosport team, with whom he had his biggest successes, in a one-off entry. Munoz famously made his Verizon IndyCar Series debut with Andretti Autosport at the 2013 Indianapolis 500, qualifying second and finishing second in one of the most impressive debuts any driver has ever had.

Munoz followed that debut with a solid rookie year in 2014, again in the Andretti camp, in which he claimed three podium finishes, finished eighth in the championship, and recorded another top-five finish at the Indy 500 by finishing fourth. He subsequently took his first career IndyCar win with the team at Detroit Race 1 in 2015, and 2016 saw him finish second once more at the Indy 500 – to teammate Alexander Rossi – before securing his first career pole with them at Texas Motor Speedway.

In short, Munoz rejoining Andretti Autosport is similar to a successful marriage getting rekindled. And, ironically, talks between both sides ignited at a wedding.

“Yeah, funny story because Marco (Andretti) invited me to his wedding. I went to the wedding. I start talking to J.F. (Thormann) and Michael (Andretti) about what they’re going to do next year. They said they’re going to do six cars in the Indy 500, all in-house. I say, ‘Whoa, that was interesting,'” Munoz said o their initial discussions.

Munoz added that, even though they waited until i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed to formally make the announcement, a deal with Andretti was always going to be in the works.

“So we started talking after the wedding to see what was going on. Just a few days ago, I think last week, we finalized all the little details. But we knew we (were) going to race with them for a long time. So, you know, I’ve been with them for five years, so we know each other really well. Everything was pretty easy. Even if the contract was not signed yet, we knew is going to work out in the end,” Munoz detailed.

The reunion between them is also reflected on the driver front, as Munoz has been teammates with all of Andretti Autosport’s current full-season drivers in his career – Marco Andretti and Ryan Hunter-Reay from 2014 to 2016, Alexander Rossi in 2016, and Zach Veach in 2013, with Andretti Autosport’s Indy Lights program, and in 2017, when Veach joined A.J. Foyt Racing in a one-off entry for the Indy 500. He’ll have the chance to work with Stefan Wilson as well next May.

Munoz revealed that working with so many familiar faces is another facet of this reunion that makes him happy.

“I think Zach is going to be quick right away with a good car. You know, we will work a little bit in the 500. I think he did a really good job as my teammate there. So we’ll see what happens really. Just really excited to work again with all my teammates, with Alex, with Marco, and with Ryan.”

Munoz’s entry will be a sixth effort out of the Andretti Autosport shop, with all six being in-house. While that number seems a little high for one team to field, Munoz pointed to the team’s history of fielding fast cars – they’ve won the Indy 500 three of the last four years – as evidence of their ability to field several fast entries without skipping a beat.

“When I talk to Marco, to (J.F.), Michael, at the wedding, they say all of the six cars, they’re going to go in-house made with their own people, with no other teams in the middle. I was really interested, you know, because I thought maybe the sixth car would be with another team in the middle and wouldn’t be the same. Andretti has shown, like, (it) doesn’t matter if they put four or five cars, they have always been quick, all of them, like in the get-go. They do a really good job of being really quick, all of them,” Munoz explained.

Of course, the previous success the two have had together indicates that more success is possible. And while Munoz acknowledged that the 2018 aero kit is a big variable to tackle, he thinks Andretti Autosport will figure it out very quickly.

“Next year with the new car, all the teams starting from zero, it’s going to be completely different car, you know. The driving style, as well. Mechanical setup is going to be completely different. Now is a question mark how competitive all the teams is going to be, who is going to be the fastest, you know. But I’m really confident that Andretti is going to be right away really quick,” Munoz asserted.

And as far as other races he may run in 2018, Munoz admitted that he is considering racing in other series, but the Verizon IndyCar Series and the Indy 500 are still his number one priority.

“I’m going to do my best. I think all the team, my manager and everything, we’re going to work really hard to keep more races,” Munoz revealed. “I want to keep my focus in IndyCar. As right now, I’m still young. I’m still 25 years old. I want to keep my options in IndyCar still. I feel that I have not done anything I can. I have some work to do, like to win the (Indy 500), to win more races, to be fighting, for sure. So right now my main focus is the IndyCar.”

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INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after Friday’s two practices at Barber

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Here’s what drivers had to say after Friday’s two practice sessions for Sunday’s Honda Grand Prix of Alabama (there’s one final practice plus qualifying on Saturday):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, 2017 Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama winner, 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series champion): “It’s great…home track for me. It wins the war between this place and Indianapolis (Motor Speedway) because it’s an hour closer, so I think that’s why I call it the home track. Unfortunately, we don’t race in Nashville anymore. But I’ve always loved Barber. It is a special place for me. It’s the place I got my first win with CFH (Racing) back in the day, and it’s a place I won my first race for Team Penske. It’s had a couple firsts for me, so it’s been good for that. Good memories. I love this racetrack. I think it’s one of the best that we get to drive at from sort of a style standpoint. It’s very technical, but it’s got a lot of flow to it. It feels kind of like a roller coaster to me is the best way to describe the style of it. I have a lot of fun here. I think it’s great. We’re going to try and have a good weekend. We had a pretty good start for the most part. We had some issues in the first session. Just kind of been dealing with a couple things that I think we got sorted out for the second session there, but we seem like we’ve got some speed. I think our other cars got some speed, as well. Simon (Pagenaud) looked like he suffered from maybe a similar problem, and I don’t think Will (Power) had a very good lap, so I think those guys will be right there with us. Team Penske I think is going to be strong tomorrow, I’m sure.

MATHEUS “MATT” LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “We’re struggling with understeer in mid-corner, so we need more rotation in the car. If we can fix the mid-corner understeer, we’re going to have a fast car tomorrow. We’ll keep working on it, and hopefully we’ll have a great weekend.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We learned a lot today. We tried to come test here a few weeks ago, but unfortunately Mother Nature had a different plan, so we didn’t get a lot of running in. We came into this weekend with a bit of an evolution from what we tested, still were a little bit off, and over lunch, the Arrow Electronics guys made a couple of great changes. It doesn’t look great on the time sheets because our fast lap was when that red flag came out, so they took it away from us. I think we’re decently inside the top 10, which is a big jump from this morning.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil Schmidt Peterson Motorsports Honda): “We lost water pressure somewhere in the Lucas Oil car, so we’re playing it safe. No water pressure means no water circulation to the engine, then it overheats and blows up. We’re taking the precautions to keep the engine alive, but unfortunately, we stopped after a couple of laps. It’s an hour free practice and we only did two competitive laps, so we’re just watching everyone else improve their cars and we aren’t able to right now. It’s pretty disappointing.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “We’re in the ballpark at the front, which is a good start for the No. 9 PNC Bank team. The Penske cars are up front and I think that’s a result of them doing some additional testing here. We kind of expected that to start. We did a qualifying run and the car was just too loose for some reason. And then we were fighting understeer this morning, so we’ve seen both sides of it. Now it’s up to us to get it right for qualifying tomorrow.”

ED JONES (No. 10 NTT DATA Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): “It was a difficult end to the day for us. I think after starting well this morning, we struggled in the afternoon. It could have been the heat that affected us, I’m not really sure. Tonight, we’ll have to look at the data and what we learned from the NTT DATA car, talk to Scott (Dixon) and look toward tomorrow. I’m optimistic because we have a good base setup and we just need a little bit more work to get it right.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “I think once again the temperature of the track really makes it tough in these cars. It was very nice this morning and was easy to get lap times. And then all of a sudden this afternoon, even on reds (Firestone alternate tires), it’s very difficult to get the car right. We’re going to have to go back and have a good think about it.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “It’s a difficult day. We’re struggling a lot. We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 Mi-Jack Honda): “Today was OK. I didn’t think that we were great there in the second practice, but if you’re off a little bit, it can make a five-, six-, seven-spot difference. It’s going to be really tight (on the time sheets) there tomorrow, so we’ve got to work on it and get it a little better.” (About whether qualifying performance is even more important if rain falls during the race:) “Qualifying will be important, but I think if it’s rainy, I think you will be able to make moves and you will see a lot of guys make mistakes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): “I am not quite sure what to think about the whole day. We are not super happy with the car, but in the meantime, it is decently fast. We made some gains and at least the car is doing one thing, so that’s the good thing. The SealMaster Honda No. 18 is in the ballpark. It seems like all we are doing right now is preparing for qualifying because it is definitely going to rain on Sunday. We are going to have to think very hard on what we are going to do in those conditions. We just have to keep working and see what we get tomorrow.”

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “We didn’t have a great morning aboard the No. 19 Paysafe car as we struggled a bit with the balance, but the second practice session was a lot better. We ended up P12, but had the potential for a lot more. When we went out on the Firestone red (alternate) tires near the end of the session, a red flag came out and that didn’t help us. I think we definitely could have been in the top 10, maybe even the top five. Overall, it’s encouraging heading into practice and qualifying tomorrow.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “This morning was really good and we made some good progress. For this afternoon’s session, we changed a couple of things to see if they helped. We’re keeping the tradition, though, of not getting a lap time on reds (Firestone alternate tires), between traffic and red flags and yellows. We are farther down than I think we should be. We should be quite a bit quicker, probably seven or eight tenths faster than what we were. We’re not a million miles away. We just need a few more small improvements to get me a bit more comfortable with the car.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “That was a really good session. It’s nice to end up at the front here at Barber. It’s one of my favorite tracks, I really enjoy it. The session was good right from the get-go on black (Firestone primary) tires. We were quite fast, then when we put the reds (Firestone alternate tires) on, the car just gained more grip. Sometimes when you put them on, it can really change the balance, but this time it felt really good. We were able to get a little more out of the car in pretty much every corner. I’m very happy with the Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevy so far, hopefully we can keep it up there.”

SIMON PAGENAUD (No. 22 Menards Team Penske Chevrolet): “The car is really fast. It was a really good session to start. But unfortunately, we had a bit of a spin on the reds (Firestone alternate tires) trying a little too hard, I guess. That’s what you have to do before qualifying. You have to find the limits, but I’m very happy with the Menards car. I think we’ll be in great shape tomorrow.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Group One Thousand One Honda): “So far, it’s just been really nice to have experience at this track, which makes it a little easier coming in. We’ve been trying a lot of things today and I think we were a little stronger in the morning than this afternoon. We have a bit to go back and look at, but compared to where I was here last year, it’s night and day difference. I’m just happy to have the opportunity that we do, and we’re going to keep pushing forward.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 Kerauno / MilitaryToMotorsports.com Honda, Verizon IndyCar Series points leader): “This morning was definitely a struggle for all of us. I think the No. 27 car was the most outside of the window, but we made a lot of improvements over lunch. We have something to be positive about going into this evening and looking forward to tomorrow. I think we need to take one or two steps in a similar direction, but if we can do that, I think the Kerauno car will be good enough for the Firestone Fast Six.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “I think we made steady progress through the day. We started out with the rear of the car way too exposed, too loose through most corners. We needed to bring it more into the window, which I think we did in the final session, considering we didn’t get a full run on new red tires due to a red flag. I think the DHL car has some good pace in it, so hopefully we can make the next step tomorrow.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “The second session was better. I think we made some good progress from the first one. The first session was a little bit of finding the right direction to go in and it seems we found one. Still, we have a little work to be done Saturday. Having said that, there was quite a few yellows and red flags that interrupted the session. I know everyone is in the same boat, but our best lap was like a rerun and we were never able to do a long run, so it’s a little gray on how we will be for Sunday (in the race). We lost some downforce compared to last year and the tires have quite a good drop-off, or degradation, so after you use them the first or second timed lap, the tires are losing a lot of grip. It’s not a huge amount, we’re talking about a small amount, but it’s enough to make a difference. We are trying a different kind of philosophy in terms of the mechanical setup, trying to match the balance and grip level of where we were last year, so that’s why everyone is trying different things. Some people struggle, some people find a happy place.”

RENE BINDER (No. 32 Binderholz tiptop timber Chevrolet): “I think that the practice went well in the beginning. We did find some improvement, so it went better and better. Then we put the red tires on and I tried to push hard and maybe a little too much. I then lost the car, it went straight into the wall. It was a little bit too late with my hands, taking them off the steering wheel, so my left hand hurts a little bit.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Tough day for us today. We had a mechanical issue towards the end of Practice 2, so it cut our time on track short. I know the Harding Racing guys are working hard to make sure everything will be good to go tomorrow for Practice 3 and qualifying. We’ll keep at it tonight to be ready to push tomorrow.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 Kerauno / Curb Honda): “The Kerauno car was decent today, and coming out of Friday in the top 10 is a good place to start the weekend. We have a few things we want to work on overnight that I think will help the car be even better, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. Hoping to make it into the Firestone Fast Six tomorrow and challenge for the pole.”