Carlos Munoz admits he’s a shy guy, a quiet Colombian until he gets to know someone.
But the Andretti Autosport driver knows what he wants when it comes to racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series. And he’s not understated about that goal.
Munoz aspires to be a competitive mainstay like so many of the established regulars, drivers like Helio Castroneves, Tony Kanaan, Scott Dixon and fellow Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya. Those four have combined to win seven Indianapolis 500s and six Indy car season titles.
Not for lack of trying, Munoz has come so close in a short time at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. That’s why he was bitterly disappointed after finishing second in May’s 100th running. In four Indy 500 starts, he’s been a runner-up twice and also finished fourth.
He’s still just 24, so Munoz has time.
“I love INDYCAR,” Munoz said. “When people ask me where do I see myself (in the future), Formula One is so hard to get there. I love INDYCAR, I love racing here. I want to be like TK, who has been here for so many years, such a long time. I want to be like Helio. I remember in 2000 when I went to Fontana (Calif.) to watch that last race with Montoya (before he left for Formula One), Helio was there. I want to be one of those guys, be here forever and be competitive.”
Munoz’s lone series win came at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit last season. He’s become increasingly competitive, as the Indy 500 showed. He recently won his first pole at Texas and had a strong car when that race was suspended by rain. Again, so close. He’s familiar with that position.
“After Indy, for sure, I know now that I’m here in America, how important the ‘500’ is for everyone and me, it’s the biggest race,” he said. “You feel that passion. It’s like when you have a girlfriend and she’s hard to get, you love her more and more. You want it more and more. It was so close. In the end, the speed, I think I was the quickest guy up there.”
In the last few laps, Munoz kept looking up at the IMS scoring pylon and seeing the No. 98 of teammate Alexander Rossi in first. He kept expecting Rossi to pit for fuel, but the rookie was able to conserve fuel to win, relegating Munoz to second again.
If anyone can relate to that frustration, it’s his boss. Rossi’s triumph was the fourth Indy 500 win for Michael Andretti as a team owner. But Andretti holds the driver distinction of leading the most Indy 500 laps (431) without a win. All of the other top 20 drivers in laps led at Indy celebrated at least one win.
“I told him I know exactly how he feels after Indy because I’ve been there, more than once,” said Andretti, 53. “There’s not much you can do about it. Just keep your head down, keep doing your job and eventually it will hopefully turn around for you.
“It’s part of our sport that you’ve got to deal with. He’s fine. It was a moment thing. He was just bummed. He’s back on. He’s over it.”
If anything, Munoz’s frustration over finishing second showed he understands the significance of that race. Some drivers don’t truly understand that.
“No, they don’t,” Andretti said. “Marco got criticized when he was all disappointed when he finished second his rookie year (in 2006), but he knew by living through my dad (Mario) and myself, you don’t get those opportunities a lot. Here he is, 10 years later, and he hasn’t won it. He should have won it a bunch of times.
“It’s such an important place that second in that race, you’re definitely the first loser. Nobody really cares who finishes second.”
Because Munoz doesn’t talk much, his outspokenness after the Indy 500 might have come as a surprise. He said a former driver texted him congratulations and reminded how fortunate Munoz is to be racing when other drivers are home watching on television, and that he should be grateful.
“He is real quiet,” Andretti said. “He doesn’t say a whole lot, but he does a good job. What I like about him is he’s always working on himself. He’s always trying to improve.”
Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2014 Indy 500 winner for Andretti, says his teammate has the talent to be successful.
“He’s a good, fast driver,” Hunter-Reay said. “He’s had the benefit of being in a very big team with a great track history and good start setup. He’s definitely had a great opportunity. He’s got a lot of raw talent and works hard at it. I think he’s going to have more race wins.”
Munoz said he’s trying to prove he can be consistently competitive on street and road courses. That’s what made his Detroit win so meaningful. He suggested the perception about him is that Munoz is just quick on ovals.
“I want to be a type of Scott Dixon,” he said of the four-time series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing. “For me, he’s a really good driver. He’s so good in all kind of tracks. People like Tony Kanaan, they’ve been here for ages. I would like to be one of those guys.
“This year, although the results don’t always show it, I’ve been driving good. I’ve been close. If you continue to do your work, the result is going to show.”
Munoz is seventh in series points, 113 behind leader Simon Pagenaud of Team Penske, heading to the Iowa Corn 300 on July 10. Munoz’s best previous season finish was eighth in 2014. He finished 13th last year.
When asked which drivers he idolized growing up, Munoz provides some insight about himself.
“I don’t like that word, idolize,” he said. “I’m really a religious guy, so idolize is God only.”
He prefers to use the word “examples.” And then Munoz cites the usual series suspects again.
“Dixon is a big example,” he said. “Helio, Tony has been here, Juan for sure, since I was a small kid he was an example in my life, being from Colombia. Racing him was big. Watching him race and win the Indy 500 when I was a kid, being from Colombia, that was a big example for me.
“INDYCAR is all about experience. This is my third full year. I’m seeing that. We’re much more competitive than last year. And like I said in that (Indy post-race) interview, I will win the Indy 500 one day, for sure.”