Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Andretti’s Muñoz Ready For First 500, Lights Title Run

Carlos Muñoz hasn’t been around IndyCar very long, but he’s definitely moving up in terms of name recognition. The Colombian prospect won twice in Firestone Indy Lights last season, and is in the middle of a championship fight in this year’s Lights campaign. He’s also preparing to run in the #26 car for Andretti Autosport next month in a qualifying attempt for the Indianapolis 500. If you haven’t been following him yet, you’ll definitely want to keep tabs on him leading into May.

Carlos recently sat down for an IndyCar Advocate interview to discuss both his upcoming 500 rookie try, his Lights season, and just what impact conditioning has on a race car driver:

First, congrats for your big win at Barber two weeks ago. This was your second Lights race at Barber—did you approach the race any differently this time around? For that matter, are you approaching the season any differently?

CM: I approached it with a “first day” mentality—my goal has been to learn as much as I can. I knew last year, more or less, I had to be in Lights two years to help the learning process. The second year, I knew could be “my year”. I’ve felt a little more pressure to perform this year. I thought the team did a great job through all the preseason tests, and I’ve really worked on my overall athletics—I’m much more fit this year, both mentally and physically.

Let’s go into that for a minute. How much does fitness training play into your results?

CM: A lot, I think. I’ve been doing a very heavy regimen this year—biking twice of week, lots of swimming and running, plenty of karting and gym sessions—I feel much stronger. After the races at Barber and St. Pete, I felt so much better compared to those races last year. Really, that was my first year with longer-distance races. I came from Europe, so we don’t have one hour races—over there, you’re looking at a 30 minute race. Plus, most of the tracks don’t have long stretches where you can afford to rest—it is a constant effort. So, especially coming over here, it’s very important to have that fitness.

As far as learning in these Lights cars, what’s probably the biggest thing you’ve learned in these last two years?

CM: Really, you have to get comfortable, and gain confidence. If I look at the start of last season versus how I ended last season, I finished really strong. I know exactly what the car does, where the limit of the car is, you know? I am very happy I had the experiences I did in Europe, because it helped me adapt to a different sort of car quickly. That’s part of being a driver. Yes, the car is way different than what I had in Europe, but I think the most important thing I’ve learned is that it isn’t a one lap race. It’s a long race; learning that, I’m able to wait and overtake better than last year, and I’m also thinking out my race better. Of course, there’s also learning ovals, which I’ve really loved, and have done well on. Overall, I’m very comfortable and happy with the racing here in America.

Muñoz will be making his IndyCar debut at Indy.
(Courtesy IndyCar Media)
Right now, you’re in a battle with Jack Hawksworth and some other quality drivers for that Lights title. People talk about the small size of the Lights field, but what about the overall quality?

CM: For sure, there aren’t big numbers in there, but it’s a case of if not quantity, at least quality. There’s Sage Karam, who’s a big American prospect, right? He was very strong in Star Mazda. There’s also Gabby Chaves—also from Colombia—and he was excellent last year. Jack Hawksworth is also a big talent, and he seems just so comfortable in the car and is with a very good team. Then there’s Peter Dempsey, who’s a fast driver with a lot of experience. He’s been really quick and I’ve been impressed when I see him race.

Aside from your Lights duties, you’re going to be attempting to qualify for the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie next month. What’s your approach for Indy as a rookie with what should be a very strong Andretti team this year?

CM: I tested two weeks ago in Texas Motor Speedway. The DW12 felt really good, and I thought I was strong and pretty comfortable. Of course, the team helped me out a lot. I think we’re going to have a really good car. I know I’m a rookie, but I’m going to have one of the best teams behind me. That gives me some pressure, but I’m really comfortable coming into the month, too. I’m just going to go step-by-step and not set any big goals for myself just yet. We’ll see how the month goes, and then I’ll make my goals for the race.

You were around Indy last year for the Firestone Freedom 100, and got to see some of what Indy is all about. How does the experience at Indy compare with your experiences in Europe?

CM: Well, the Indy 500 is the biggest race in America, of course. Last year, I was really impressed with the number of spectators and it’s just a different race than anything I’ve seen. Between the length of the race and seeing them going 100% to the finish after that last pit stop, I just had so much fun watching the race—there was so much overtaking, pushing to the end, and great racing. Just as a spectator, it’s better to see the 500 than any other race.

Also, at Indy, the fans are so much more involved. In America, they are so inside the world of racing compared to Europe. They care a lot about the teams and drivers, and I think the drivers care about them too—since that’s the whole point of racing.

You've got your one race deal for the 500 with Andretti Autosport. Is it too early to start looking ahead to your plans for 2014? It seems like you have a full IndyCar season as your goal, right?

CM: I think it's too early to discuss next year. My main goal is the Indy Lights championship, and I think I've started quite good in that regard. I can't afford to distract my mind from Lights until it's time for IndyCar. People have asked if I'm distracted for the Indy 500, and say no, because this week I'm focused in on Barber or Long Beach. I will focus on the 500 when it's time for that. I think this year, we can do a great job in Lights and in the 500, and then move on from there as far as a full year.

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