Marshall Pruett says…
Carlos was shot out of a rocket during most of his rookie IndyCar season. He stood on the podium at Long Beach, the second race of the season, and continued on a roll that had the 22-year-old Colombian (22!) holding sixth in the standings through Iowa, the 12th of 18 races on the calendar.
The Munoz train would start to derail at Toronto where a pair of 17th places followed by a 22nd at Milwaukee and a 19th at Sonoma took a bit of shine off his pre-Toronto body of work. The end result was eighth in the championship, nestled between Tony Kanaan and teammate Marco Andretti in the final standings.
If you detect a slight tone of disappointment in what I’ve written so far, it’s because Munoz slammed the rookie wall much harder than expected. Rounds 1 through 12 came easy to Carlos—that Long Beach podium, a fourth at the Indy 500, another podium at Houston 1 and then another podium at Pocono served as incredible highs that more than counterbalanced his craters at Barber, the GP of Indy and Houston 2.
You expect rookies to be inconsistent, and Munoz met those expectations perfectly, but when he was on, the kid looked like a future IndyCar champion. The final 33 percent of the season exposed Munoz’s youth and inexperience, and that isn’t something to be held against him.
Teamed with the excellent engineer Garrett Mothersead, Carlos was a revelation in 2014, put some big names behind him in the championship, and by all accounts, overachieved. He was the second best driver at Andretti Autosport—just two spots behind team leader, Indy 500 winner Ryan Hunter-Reay, and that’s something no one would have predicted.
I’m curious to see where he fits on the grid in 2015. With a touch of consistency, he moves up a few positions in the standings, but does he have an extra gear to mix it up with Power, Dixon, RHR, Pagenaud and the other beasts on a regular basis?
David Malsher says…
“Carlos Munoz is going to be a big threat in years to come, I think. A seriously impressive driver.”
If those words had come from Michael Andretti or Juan Montoya, you’d assume they were a result of a generous boss or a friendly compatriot. Instead, they come from Team Penske’s Will Power.
“He’s so young but already very fast and consistent,” continues the new IndyCar champion. “To make so few mistakes when you’re 22 and in such a high-pressure series where everyone’s so close in pace… That’s amazing.”
In 2013, just before he pulled double-duty at Indy – fourth in the Indy Lights Freedom 100, second on his IndyCar debut in the Indy 500! – Munoz was quick to defend the Lights series. He told me that while the field was lacking in depth, “even if there were 55 cars out there, the current top five would still be the top five.” The cream, in other words, is still the cream and rises to the top, even if what’s below has turned sour.
Unwittingly, Munoz proved that himself this year; he may have only finished third in the Lights championship last year, but he was a fantastic IndyCar rookie this past season. He never looked out of his depth, got his arms around street, road and oval racing, handled the high pressure of competing for the Firestone Fast Six, and was hard but fair in battle.
What we were all watching for were signs of the excess bravery that led to the superlative result at Indy last year but which also caused the high-speed shunt at Fontana in his second IndyCar outing for Andretti Autosport. Instead, Carlos spent the 2014 season emulating his one-off performance for Panther at Toronto in 2013 – rarely overreaching himself, just gaining experience and pace.
Thus he sidestepped the confidence-sapping shunts of his Rookie of the Year predecessor, Tristan Vautier, and simply delivered when he could.
Munoz scored three podium finishes, and three times – Pocono, Iowa and Mid-Ohio – was the fastest Andretti Autosport driver in qualifying. That’s not just an indicator of raw pace but also that he was good at working down to an optimal setup at the first two of these. At Mid-O, he was superb on a soaking track and qualified fourth, while similar wet conditions produced his third place finish in Houston.
Like Power said, this kid has got the balance just right and his potential is enormous.
Robin Miller says…
It says a lot about this young man that podiums are alright but he won’t ever be satisfied until he’s standing on that top step.
Munoz scored three podiums in 2014 (all thirds) and was fourth on two other occasions to finish eighth in the point standings and easily earn the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award.
His impressive debut at Indianapolis in 2013 (second) was confirmed as a trend in 2014 as the 22-year-old Colombian showed he was anything but a flash in the pan. And his versatility was unquestionable as he finished third at Pocono and fourth at Indianapolis but also claimed third at Long Beach and Houston – where he charged from 23rd.
To think he had FIVE DNFs and still finished eighth in the points indicates how well he drove as the fourth wheel for Andretti Autosport. His average start was 10.5 with three trips to the Fast 6 and a front row at Pocono, fifth at Iowa and seventh at the Indy 500. A road racer by trade, the former Indy Lights star is just as formidable on ovals and summed up his attitude after finishing third at Pocono.
“It’s nice but it’s not first,” he said. “Nobody cares who finished second or third.”
But his first win is only a matter of time.