Munoz explored other options before re-signing with Andretti

Photo: IndyCar
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With Ryan Hunter-Reay still under a multi-year contract and Marco Andretti confirming a one-year extension into 2016, their status of driving with Andretti Autosport for the Verizon IndyCar Series season wasn’t really in question.

Carlos Munoz’s, however, sort of was. But the Colombian has re-signed with the team for at least one more season in its third car.

Munoz captured his first career victory at the first of two races at Belle Isle Park in Detroit, in an admittedly strategy-aided and weather-shortened race. Nonetheless, it was just rewards for a driver who had shown plenty of glimpses of potential in a handful of 2013 starts and his first full season in 2014.

But as the year went on there weren’t really too many other drives that stood out and Munoz tested the free agent waters before re-signing with Andretti Autosport.

As Munoz related during IndyCar media day last week, staying with Andretti was always the goal, but wasn’t guaranteed until his signing was confirmed in November.

“We had the contract for this year, but I had been talking to other teams,” Munoz told NBC Sports during the media day.

“The situation was that my first priority was to stay with Andretti, but they were looking for sponsorships and everything. They found one. I’m excited to have signed with them for one year, one extra year, knowing it’s the 100th running, and they want to be competitive in 500. I’m happy to be back for a third year.”

Munoz was a revelation in his first two Indianapolis 500 attempts in 2013 and 2014. He finished second and fourth those two years, and his fearless, low line route through Turn 1 in particular raised eyebrows around the paddock.

But with the deficiencies that affected Honda’s aero kit last year at Indianapolis, a third straight standout drive simply wasn’t on the cards.

Munoz and the late Justin Wilson nearly snatched top-five results on fuel strategy, before late-race splashes for fuel dropped them to 20th and 21st, respectively.

“My race last year was (just) to be the first Honda,” Munoz said. “I was achieving that; I was the quickest Honda the whole race, but my mistake going in the pits cost me a drive-through.

“We knew we didn’t have a chance against the Chevys. We were more than 2 mph slower. You can’t do anything with that. We cannot change much stuff now this year. But we’re fighting there, and we’ll see if we can change the package.”

Munoz debuted a new red and white firesuit at media day, which would seem to indicate a change in livery for his No. 26 Honda when it’s revealed.

Munoz and Hunter-Reay will be testing this week at Auto Club Speedway, on Wednesday, in a Honda manufacturer test day.

The three drivers are the lone three confirmed for the full-season. Team principal Michael Andretti admitted to my colleague Luke Smith over the weekend in Buenos Aires that there is a chance Robin Frijns may run selected races in a fourth car, while Simona de Silvestro told Smith her FIA Formula E commitments may prevent her from an Indianapolis 500 bow.

Lessons learned in three rounds of Extreme E pay huge dividends in the Copper X Prix for Tanner Foust

Foust Copper X Prix
McLaren Racing
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To paraphrase the Grateful Dead, what a long, unique trip it’s been for Tanner Foust in his first season with the Extreme E series as he took his early season lessons to Chile to compete in the Copper X Prix. And he’s learned his lessons well.

In February, McLaren announced they would expand their motorsports program with an Extreme E entry. They signed two talented rally drivers in Foust and Emma Gilmour – and paired them for the opening round in Neom, Saudi Arabia with just a few days of testing under their belts. Baked by the Arabian desert sun, it was trial by fire.

The duo performed well in their debut, advancing into the final round and finishing fifth. As Extreme E headed to another desert halfway across the globe for Round 4, it was a good time to catch up with Foust and ask about McLaren’s progress. The Copper X Prix was held this past weekend in one of the most extreme regions in the world: the Atacama Desert.

MORE: McLaren considering Kyle Busch for Indy 500

“The shock going into the first race was the speed,” Foust told NBC Sports. “It was much higher than we had tested. We spent a lot of time around 100 miles per hour [in race trim] and our testing speeds were more in the 60 to 70-mile range. Then, once we sort of got around that, the car got updated so you can drive it even faster.”

In rally racing, some incidents are out of a driver’s control. Even peeking around another car can be dangerous because of potholes that have recently been gouged in the ground or large bushes that seem to sprout up between laps. A couple of rollovers brought Foust back to earth – but the pace was there and that was important.

“We had some challenges this season,” Foust said prior to the Copper X Prix. “We had a good start; made the final, which is a difficult thing to do in this series. I had two rolls in the first three events, but I have improved each time. Now we come into Round 4 in Chile in a pretty strong position. We have competitive times as a team. We are communicating really well and have our heads around this Odyssey vehicle.”

Foust’s words proved to be prophetic.

He won the Crazy Race – Extreme E’s version of a Last Chance Qualifier – and did so after passing the field. It was the same manner in which he qualified for Saudi Arabia’s finale, but this time things would be better. There were those hard-earned lessons on which to lean – and Foust had reps under his belt. He was not going to be caught off guard by any random obstacles.

Tanner Foust passed Sebastien Loeb heading to the Switch Zone in the Copper X Prix. (Photo by Sam Bagnall / LAT Images)

In the Copper X Prix finale, he pressured one of the best rally drivers in the history of the sport.

Pitching sideways through a tight left-hander late in his stint, Foust put his McLaren Extreme E Odyssey at the head of the pack in front of Sebastien Loeb as they headed to the Switch Zone. There, he would turn the car over to his co-driver Gilmour.

The Extreme E series pairs male and female drivers with both taking a turn behind the wheel.

After the driver change, Gilmour lost the lead momentarily to Loeb’s teammate Cristina Gutierrez, but as they charged toward the finish line, she surged ahead and crossed under the checkers first.

“What an improvement for the team over this year,” Foust said after the race. “We have struggled through some of the events, being in our first year in competition. We showed true pace this weekend; overtaking Sebastien Loeb was a highlight.

“Emma put in a great run in the Final. I was fortunate to go from last to first in the Crazy Race and then first in the Final but with some flag penalties, we had 20 seconds added to our time, which put us into fifth. It was a great feeling crossing the line first, I love this wide style track and the NEOM McLaren Odyssey was fantastic here.

“Hopefully we can continue that momentum into Uruguay.”

Loeb and Gutierrez were elevated to the top of the podium, but no one can take away the feeling of crossing under the checkers first.


Racing Responsibly

Since cars were first invented, racing has played a socially responsible role by improving safety. As Earth reaches a tipping point with climate change, racing needs to adapt to these new needs and requirements, which is where Extreme E’s unique strategy becomes increasingly important.

The Extreme E experience is more than simple racing. Each race is accompanied by a legacy program designed to offset damage done by climate change and to erase the footprint caused by the events.

Foust, a biology major from the University of Colorado, was given the chance to rekindle his interest and give back to the environment ahead of the Copper X Prix.

The Atacama is the oldest desert in the world at 150 million years. It is the driest place on earth and has the highest degree of ultraviolet light. And yet somehow life perseveres through underground rivers with oases dating back to Incan times. Foust participated in preparing a local habitat for the reintroduction of a critically endangered water frog to Chile’s longest river, the Loa, which snakes its way through the desert.

“I’m loving the experience,” Foust said. “I’m putting on a lot of Chapstick, a lot of sunscreen. What a fascinating part of the world. I never would have come here otherwise.

“I honestly am very honored to be a part of this sport. I am a huge believer in the fact that motorsports has done us good in the last 100 years. I think we benefit every single time we put our seatbelts on and drive down the road to the lessons learned in racing since the turn of the century. And I really hope motorsports continues that tradition.

“I think that motorsports like [Extreme E] does it in a responsible way, a gender-neutral way and a carbon-neutral way.”