Beyond RHR, Munoz and Andretti both score second straight top-10 at Barber

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Ryan Hunter-Reay was the top finishing Andretti Autosport driver Sunday in the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, in his No. 28 DHL Honda, but his two teammates added to the overall results haul Sunday at Barber Motorsports Park.

Carlos Munoz (No. 26 Cinsay/AndrettiTV.com Honda) and Marco Andretti (No. 27 Snapple Honda) each followed up their top-10 results at Long Beach last week with near identical results this week, to give Andretti Autosport a perfect three-for-three in top-10s on the day.

Granted, while lower top-10 results aren’t the goal, and while a higher finish for Andretti was certainly possible, both Munoz and Andretti flew under the radar once again en route to their results.

Munoz started 22nd in the 23-car Verizon IndyCar Series field but advanced as high as eighth, primarily on the pit stop sequence, in his first stint before pitting on Lap 22.

A short-fill and a second stop on Lap 35 positioned him well to make it home on just one more stop from there, which he took on Lap 63, the same lap as race winner Josef Newgarden.

Munoz made it up to seventh by Lap 70, when most of the leaders completed their final round of stops, and gained a further position to sixth when Helio Castroneves needed a splash of fuel with two laps remaining.

“I think sixth for me is like a victory today. I mean I always want to win, but this sixth feels so good because of how we started the weekend,” Munoz said in a team release.

“Starting 22nd at Barber (Motorsports Park), it is really hard to make your way to the front. My team did a great job – in pit stops, in strategy. I think I did a great job at saving fuel; I’m more or less a rookie at saving fuel, but I think now I have my ‘saving fuel degree’ from university (haha). Now I’m looking forward to the next one.”

Andretti recorded his third top-10 finish in four races to open the year on a similar strategy. Stops on Laps 15, 35 and 63 positioned him for a top-10 result, and a last lap pass of Luca Filippi for 10th completed the day’s work. Still, he felt things could have gone better.

“I lost too much time early in the stint to (Scott) Dixon and Ryan (Hunter-Reay); I had a go at Dixon… I got pushed off the track, so we lost a lot of track position,” said Andretti, who at one point made a dynamic outside pass of his teammate on Lap 25 for sixth place.

“I lost a lot of time, really, in that stint trying to conserve (fuel). I need to get better at managing, but we were losing the rear tires, so it was a real struggle.”

Munoz, Hunter-Reay and Andretti now rank 11th, 12th and 13th this season in the points standings heading into the month of May.

As the defending Indianapolis 500 champion team, and a team that has had an excellent setup at Indianapolis each of the last two years, it will be interesting to watch theirs and Honda’s progression into the month of May.

IndyCar’s ‘Phoenix’ flying into 2023 season: Romain Grosjean enjoying the pilot’s life

IndyCar Romain Grosjean pilot
Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment
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PALM SPRINGS, Calif. – The IndyCar driver known as “The Phoenix” already has taken flight before the 2023 season, and newly licensed pilot Romain Grosjean also got a head start on the opener.

Fulfilling a dream several years in the making, the Andretti Autosport plunged into aviation training over the offseason. Since beginning with online studying last August, Grosjean quickly progressed to earning his licenses for multiengine planes and instrument ratings while completing 115 hours of flight time.

He has landed twice at Albert Whitted Airport, whose primary runway also doubles as the front straightaway on the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg street course.

“Just to land on the start-finish line, that was pretty cool,” Grosjean said during IndyCar Preseason Content Days ahead of the Feb. 2-3 test at The Thermal Club. “The air traffic control guy was like, “Yeah, left on Acre Five, turn, and then back. I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that’s the last corner of the racetrack, I’ll take it and go back to the pit lane. He was like, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, that’s true.’ So it was quite funny.”

Grosjean, 36, said he had wanted to become a pilot since he was 30 but was discouraged by Europe’s complicated and time-consuming licensing process (“to go to ground school twice a week, and with our life, it’s impossible”). He was inspired again last year by (now former) teammate Alexander Rossi, who flew to some 2022 races after earning his license a couple of years ago.

“I thought that was pretty cool,” said Grosjean, who had grown “bored of waiting in the airports.”

He plans to fly to nearly all the races this year (“if the weather is good enough, I’ll be flying”) and jokes about being “commercial by the end of the year, so then I can take Roger (Penske). Roger can pay me to fly him around to races if things go bad with racing.”

Grosjean’s social media has been filled with posts about his new hobby, which afforded him the opportunity recently to take his wife to Key West for lunch from their home in the Miami area. The trip took 37 minutes there and 41 minutes on return and highlighted why Grosjean loves flying: “Freedom. Freedom to go anywhere you want, anytime you want. It’s the beauty of it. We can go to the Bahamas for a day if we want to. Anywhere. I think that’s just great to know that you can do whatever you want.”

It’s reminiscent of the cross-country trip across the Midwest in an RV that Grosjean took with his family during the summer of his 2021 rookie season.

“There’s one thing that I told my kids, and I told my friend about America, and for me, that’s the biggest difference between Europe and here, is here everything is possible,” said Grosjean (whose “Phoenix” nickname was derived from a brush with death in his final Formula One start). “If you have the wish, if you give yourself the possibility of doing it, everything is possible. It is different in Europe. Much more boundaries on the way. Much more steps that you need to do in a certain order. But if you want to be extraordinary (in the United States), if you want to do something different, you don’t need to do those steps because you can work through.

“Yeah, I like doing things, and when I do them, I like doing them well. But here I think just the opportunity of driving the RV, flying planes, for my kids to do whatever they want to do, we love that here. Yeah, it’s been the best discovery for us.”

The Swiss-born Frenchman already has flown himself to a race this year, jetting up the Florida coast for his Rolex 24 at Daytona debut last month. It was his debut as a Lamborghini factory driver, and his new deal will continue with the Twelve Hours of Sebring and possibly the Petit Le Mans while he also helps develop the automaker’s new hybrid prototype (LMDh) for next year.

Grosjean, who finished a disappointing 13th in the 2022 points standings with one podium for Andretti in his first full season, said IndyCar will remain his priority in 2024.

But he hopes the IndyCar schedule will afford racing in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship endurance races and perhaps another his longest plane flight yet — a return to the 24 Hours of Le Mans.

“I’ll keep my fingers crossed like that we get the weekend off from IndyCar,” said Grosjean, noting that 10 IndyCar drivers were in the Rolex 24. “I think it would make a lot of sense. I think for both series it’s amazing. If we can get Le Mans, it’s also amazing because it’s just cool.

“I remember Mario flying across the Atlantic doing Monaco and the Indy 500, and those guys, they were racing everywhere, Formula 3, Formula 2, Formula 1. They were doing the races in opening of the Formula 1 race, and I think that’s very cool for us. So yeah, looking forward to the project. There’s going to be a lot of development coming on. By the time we finish the IndyCar season, the LMDh will be here in the States, and that’s when I’m going to spend a lot of time on it.”