Colombian rookie Carlos Munoz’s driving set to earn more headlines

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Carlos Munoz’s two 2013 starts for Andretti Autosport in an IndyCar produced audible gasps more often than not.

There was no way he was going to make some of the moves and entry lines he did work. At the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, his line of arcing in so high and then diving so low below the white line in the turns should not have ended without him in the wall. But it did, in second place in his Indianapolis 500 debut.

Then at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana in October, Munoz was moving high or low with ease in an action-packed 100 laps. Then, just past the century-mark, it finally bit him.

The 22-year-old Colombian is a seriously impressive star in the making, and with a full offseason to prepare for his first full season in the championship, he’s the early favorite for rookie-of-the-year honors in the team’s No. 34 Cinsay Honda.

Don’t tell him that, though. Munoz is a quiet, introspective student appreciative of the teammates around him and his countryman, Juan Pablo Montoya, who he’ll have the chance to race this year.

“Yeah, I’m a really quiet guy. I’m really shy,” Munoz admitted during IndyCar media day in Orlando. “That doesn’t mean I’m – how you say – bad person. I’m quiet and shy compared to James (Hinchcliffe). He’s always talking, making jokes, completely different mind.

“But they treat me as one of them. They treat me really well. After Indy they treat me really well!  But it’s great to have this combination of drivers, no?”

Munoz didn’t need to produce a star turn in the ‘500 to earn his place on the grid, but it didn’t hurt. He showed enough aggression, poise and pace in his two full seasons in Indy Lights that he was projected to move up this year, despite not winning the championship a year ago.

“That race just gave me the opportunity to be here in a full season,” he said. “I have another chance to go get that race. I’m focused on this year. But now I have my chance and I have to think and work for it.”

At least initially, he may have a slight pace edge on his two countrymen, Montoya and Sebastian Saavedra. Montoya will need to shake the rust off after his extended open-wheel hiatus, while Saavedra acclimates to a new team at KV/AFS Racing.

Munoz said Montoya wasn’t so much his idol, as much as a symbol of what could be achieved when Munoz was growing up. But he plans to consider him just “one of the guys” once on track.

“I don’t like the word ‘idolized,’ but he was a symbol for me when I was a kid, an example for me and many Colombian drivers, to follow him,” Munoz said.

“We have a great relationship.  He called me last year. We have known him a lot, giving me some little tips about the race and everything.  I have some pictures of him when I was small.  He was at a go-kart race with his brother when I was small.  It’s a strange feeling when you’re small, you’re looking at him as a big driver.

“But once I’m here, you just put your helmet on, everyone is the same. You don’t think, ‘Who is this guy, or what he’s done.’”

In just two years, Munoz has already done enough to get the buzz going for his rookie season. He still will need a couple races on the road and street courses to get further acclimated, although his Toronto cameo for Panther Racing last year was an impressive performance.

Whether he, Montoya or Saavedra emerges as the year’s top Colombian remains to be seen.

Column: Contrasting Michael Schumacher’s and Robert Wickens’ situations

(Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters)
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As much of the world looks forward to Christmas and New Years Day in the next few weeks, a dark anniversary is also on the near horizon.

It’s hard to believe that December 29 will mark five years since seven-time Formula One champion Michael Schumacher was critically injured in a skiing accident, suffering a traumatic brain injury.

Schumacher and his family were on holiday in the French Alps when he fell and struck his head on a boulder. The impact was so severe that it cracked the helmet he was wearing straight through.

One can only imagine the damage the impact did to Schumacher’s skull and brain.

While chronologically the accident occurred a half-decade ago, for many of “Schu’s” most ardent fans, it seems like it was just yesterday when the earth-shattering news broke.

In the following days and weeks after his accident, Schumacher was placed in a medically induced coma, as well as had at least two surgeries on his brain.

Since then the world has waited for news about the racing legend’s condition, only to receive very little in terms of updates over the subsequent five years.

That’s the way his family wants it, having repeatedly requested privacy when it comes to details about Michael’s condition. That request for privacy should be respected.

Schumacher’s wife, Corrina, issued a rare statement late last month that didn’t really say much about her husband’s condition or recovery, but she did thank fans and well-wishers for their continued prayers and concern about her husband, adding, “We all know Michael is a fighter and will not give up.”

In the meantime, Schumacher’s fans have been able to stay somewhat close to his legacy by watching as his 19-year-old son, Mick, has showed significant achievement in his own budding racing career.

So much so that rumors have already popped up that the younger Schu may soon follow in his father’s F1 footsteps, perhaps as early as 2020.

That, of course, remains to be seen.

What makes the Schumacher situation so difficult for many to still understand is how, while enjoying a simple skiing excursion with his family, he suffered a life-changing accident while having survived some wicked crashes during his racing career that barely affected him.

We still don’t know if Schumacher can walk, talk, is conscious and lucid or not – and many of his fans have already accepted that we may never, ever know any of those details. But if that’s the way he and/or his family want it, again, then we need to respect their wishes.

At the same time, there’s another race car driver who suffered a horrendous injury at Pocono Raceway this past August, namely IndyCar driver Robert Wickens.

Wickens suffered a devastating spinal cord injury that has left him a paraplegic – although there remains a great deal of hope that he will one day walk again.

While both suffered serious injuries, there’s a significant contrast between Schumacher and Wickens. The former (or his family) is keeping all details about his condition private, while the latter keeps his fans and supporters regularly updated on social media on how he’s doing.

That includes Wickens posting a number of videos, including some rather humorous ones where he has a mischievous look in his eyes or a good-natured smirk on his face — like bringing in a Christmas tree to his rehab facility, or “racing” teammate James Hinchcliffe in wheelchairs in a Days of Thunder homage of sorts.

Watching each new Wickens video or reading his most recent online messages, it’s very clear that expressing himself and reaching out to the world is indeed good therapy and medicine of sorts for the Canadian driver.

He needs those social media posts and videos as much as we need them from him.

And it also helps fans better understand where Wickens is at in his recovery and rehab.

If Schumacher or his family wish to still remain private about his condition, we must respect that. But perhaps they could see the good will and good tidings that Wickens’ videos and posts offer. They’re as good for Wickens’ own well-being as they are for his fans — and they could be equally as good for Schumacher, his family and his fans.

Follow @JerryBonkowski