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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Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
Mirco Lazzari / Getty Images
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.