A change in scenery doesn’t alter the landscape of working alongside one of motor racing’s all-time greats for Carlos Munoz.
The 25-year-old Colombian enjoyed 53 starts in the Verizon IndyCar Series with Andretti Autosport, but over the offseason decided it was time to move on and landed a seat in the No. 14 ABC Supply Chevrolet with AJ Foyt Racing.
Having spent the early part of his career under the watchful eyes of racing icons Mario Andretti and son Michael, who rank second and third, respectively, on the all-time win list in Indy car racing at 52 and 42 victories, Munoz now gets the chance to work under the man who sits atop that list at 67 wins: A.J. Foyt.
The opportunity to learn from some of the greatest drivers in history isn’t something that is lost on the two-time Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil runner-up.
“I was thinking of that the other day, that not many of drivers can say they've worked with the two biggest names in motorsports in America – one being Andretti and the other one being Foyt,” said Munoz, who turned 138 laps Friday at the Phoenix Raceway open test in his first public outing with the Foyt organization.
“For sure two completely different approaches, but you know I talked to A.J. in Texas and he's a true racer. I love the way he used to race and the mentality. Right now, even though the team is managed from his son Larry (Foyt, team president), he was there (at the shop) with the Chevy guy going over the engine and he was all pumped up, ‘Oh, it looks really nice.’
“He’s still (involved) in the team and I think when we win he will feel part of it.”
Coming off a season in which he posted career highs in laps led (50) and average finish (10.8) on his way to finishing 10th in the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series championship standings, Munoz expects elevated expectations now that he has slid into the car made famous by his boss. However, the concept of no clear lead driver is something that is more enticing to Munoz as he and teammate Conor Daly, driver of the No. 4 ABC Supply Chevrolet, go into the 2017 season as equals.
“It's another part of my career, a new part, being in the No. 14 car is some big shoes to fill,” said Munoz. “Larry told me there isn't a first car or second car. You know, the No. 14 car has historically been the big car, so it's a little bit pressure, for sure. But the mentality is that we don't have three or four teammates like last few years (at Andretti Autosport), now it’s two young drivers. We are both leading the team.
“The mentality changes a lot to the leader mentality. This is going to be my fourth season, so I have some experience. I know what I need from the car to be fast in the (Indianapolis) 500, the biggest race," added Munoz, who two runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing in four Indy 500 appearances.
“So personally, it’s a step forward in my career. It's the first time I'll be the driver to follow and, hopefully with Conor, we're going to work really well together. We want to be fast, I want good results. So we're going to have to work as a team. There is some pressure but I think I can take that pressure.”
Foyt visited Victory Lane at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” on four occasions (1961, ’64, ’67 and ’77) during a spectacular 40-year career as a driver that includes seven championships. But his team hasn’t captured the famed Borg-Warner Trophy since the 1999 season with driver Kenny Brack. It’s that history of success Munoz aims to feed from and replicate in an attempt to grab his first win at the Brickyard and help break the team’s drought at the 101st Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on May 28.
“For me, it doesn't matter if it’s the 100th or the 101st running of the race, the Indy 500 is the same,” said Munoz. “So the team is putting a lot of effort towards the 500. I've experienced from one of the biggest teams (in Andretti) how they approach that race and I put what I know from them towards that race and everything.”
Munoz was quick to not get ahead of himself and focus on testing and preparing for the Verizon IndyCar Series season opener March 10-12 at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
“Looking forward to (the Indy 500), but first we have some testing, (followed by) St. Pete and Barber and the rest, so I'm looking forward to it.”
The open test on the 1.022-mile Phoenix Raceway oval concludes today with practice sessions from 3-6 and 8-11 p.m. ET. Live video streaming is available on racecontrol.indycar.com.