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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Carlos Munoz

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MotorSportsTalk continues its run through the driver-by-driver roster in this year’s Verizon IndyCar Series. Next up in 10th is Carlos Munoz, who was top Andretti Autosport driver in the points standings this year but remains uncertain of where he’ll land in 2017.

Carlos Munoz, No. 26 Andretti Autosport Honda

  • 2015: 13th Place, 1 Win, Best Start 4th, 1 Podium, 3 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 25 Laps Led, 14.0 Avg. Start, 12.1 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 10th Place, Best Finish 2nd, 1 Pole, 2 Podiums, 2 Top-5, 7 Top-10, 50 Laps Led, 11.9 Avg. Start, 10.8 Avg. Finish

In preseason, I wrote that one of the goals for Carlos Munoz in his third full-time IndyCar season was to be less anonymous, and the Colombian achieved that largely with flying colors. He made it back into the top-10 in points, finished highest of the quartet of Andretti Autosport cars, and arguably could have won at Indianapolis – hence why he was so distraught when he ended second there to teammate Alexander Rossi.

Munoz had his usual fair share of standout moments and cut down on a couple early season mistakes as the year went on. His aggression at St. Petersburg and Barber triggered a pair of multi-car accidents, but he emerged from both of them unscathed on his own.

Andretti Autosport’s qualifying struggles were pronounced but Munoz did well to get within one tenth of a spot of Ryan Hunter-Reay in terms of average grid spot, 11.9 to 11.8. He outqualified the American on eight occasions, and that was nothing to scoff at. Doing so at some of Hunter-Reay’s traditional hunting grounds like Long Beach, Barber and Iowa spoke to his ability level to get on top of car setup even when the car wasn’t at its optimum potential.

This was also a more consistent Munoz than in years past. He didn’t ebb and flow as much as he had the past couple years, and his only DNF came at Phoenix, when he had a nightmare weekend with a heavy crash in practice and another accident roughly halfway through the race. He finished higher in points in 2014, but that owed more to his success in double-points scoring races than outright consistency.

Munoz is in a weird spot heading into the winter. At 24, he’s in that rare category where he’s young and experienced, has grown with a team but yet is uncertain about his future. Andretti Autosport would like to keep him, but the frequently bare sidepods on the No. 26 Honda this year served as a reminder of how hard the commercial side of the business can be. He remains, if not an outright top-level IndyCar driver – yet – Munoz is a driver who still has room to grow and build upon what was his best overall season yet in three full-time campaigns.

Toyota No. 8 car wins the 24 Hours of Le Mans for third consecutive year

24 Hours of Le Mans

LE MANS, France — Toyota Gazoo’s No. 8 car comfortably won the 24 Hours of Le Mans by five laps Sunday to secure a third straight victory in the prestigious endurance race.

It was also a third consecutive win for Swiss driver Sebastien Buemi and Japan’s Kazuki Nakajima driving. Brendon Hartley was the other driver, having replaced two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso.

Buemi and Hartley sat on the side of the car as Nakajima drove toward the podium. Hartley won for a second time after tasting success with the Porsche LMP Team in 2017 before an unhappy season in Formula One.

The Swiss team’s Rebellion No. 1 featured American driver Gustavo Menezes and Brazilian Bruno Senna – the nephew of late F1 great Ayrton Senna.

It finished one lap ahead of Toyota Gazoo’s No. 7, with Rebellion’s No. 3 finishing in fourth place.

For much of the race it looked like Toyota’s No. 7 would win after leading comfortably from pole position. But late into the night the car encountered an engine problem and the 30-minute stop in the stands proved costly.

The race was first held in 1923. A total of 252,500 spectators attended in 2019, but there were none this year when the race started three months late because of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

“We miss the fans,” New Zealander Hartley said. “I look forward to seeing all the fans again.”

In other divisions:

United Autosports won the LMP2 division with the entry of Filipe Albuquerque, Paul Di Resta and Phil Hanson.

–In LMGTE Pro, the victory was claimed by Aston Martin Vantage AMR of Maxime Martin, Alex Lynn and Harry Tincknell (who drives for Mazda in the DPi division of IMSA).

–TF Sport won the LMGTE Am class.

The Toyota No. 7 took pole after former F1 driver Kamui Kobayashi narrowly edged out the Rebellion No. 1 team in qualifying.

In damp and humid conditions Mike Conway got away cleanly from the start, while Senna held off Buemi.

After nearly seven hours, Toyota’s No. 8 fell back after a 10-minute stop in the stands to fix a brake-cooling problem on Kazuki Nakajima’s car. Rebellion’s No. 1, driven by Frenchman Norman Nato, took advantage to move into second place behind Toyota’s No. 7.

Then came the decisive moment at 2:40 a.m. as the No. 7 – also featuring Argentine Jose Maria Lopez – encountered a turbo problem. When the car came back out it was back in fourth.

“We had a few problems early in the race,” Nakajima said. “Later they had a bigger issue than us.”

Rebellion’s No. 1 encountered a problem on the hood at around 9 a.m. and the change took six minutes, allowing the Rebellion No. 3 (Nathanael Berthon-Louis Deletraz-Romain Dumas) to close the gap.

It was becoming a tight battle between the two Rebellion cars behind Toyota’s No. 8.

At 12 p.m. Rebellion No. 3 with Dumas behind the wheel was only one second ahead of No. 1 driven by Menezes. Then both cars came in for a driver change with Deletraz swapping for Dumas on a lengthy stop, and Nato for Menezes as Rebellion No. 1 suddenly moved ahead of its team rival.

Dumas, a winner in 2016 with Porsche, appeared unhappy at the strategy decision to bring his car in first and the length of the stop. There were tense explanations in the team garage.

Colombian Tatiana Calderon, an F1 test driver with Alfa Romeo, was in the Richard Mille Racing Team in the LMP2 category. She was joined by German Sophia Florsch – an F3 driver – and Dutchwoman Beitske Visser. They placed ninth out of 24 in their category.