Carlos Munoz was all of 8 years old but vividly remembers the celebration in Bogota, Colombia, in the hours following Juan Pablo Montoya’s Indianapolis 500 Mile Race victory in May 2000.
“I remember the cars with the flags in the streets when he won. It was quite a sight. Everyone was so proud,” Munoz said.
The street scene has replayed enduringly in Munoz’s mind -- with him substituted as the victor – and the accomplishment was inspiring, which has ultimately led the Andretti Autosport driver to the biggest stage in motorsports.
He is aiming to join Montoya, Roberto Guerrero and Sebastian Saavedra as Colombians to qualify for the Indianapolis 500, and joining Saavedra of Dragon Racing competing in Pole Day qualifications May 18 is a first for the South American country. First, Munoz will participate in the formal Rookie Orientation Program this weekend in the Chevrolet-powered No. 26 Unistraw car.
Click it: Munoz receives veteran assistance|| Entrant list
Munoz got acclimated with an IndyCar on an oval March 27 at Texas Motor Speedway, and isn’t concerned about his rookie status. He’ll have four Andretti Autosport teammates – all of whom have extensive experience on the 2.5-mile oval – along with team owner Michael Andretti and pit strategist John Tzouanakis.
“The first year (Montoya competed) he won it,” Munoz said. “Anyone can win in the first year if they have everything together – good car, luck, even though I don’t believe in luck.
“(On the 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval) it was a really competitive car and that helped my confidence a lot. For sure, Indianapolis will be much different from everything. It’s a long race so it’s good to have the rookie orientation. Also, I will begin step by step as I did in Texas and gain all the information I can.
“I’m really motivated for Indianapolis; I know I’ll have a good car. It’s a long month and I have a lot to learn (especially) the pit stops.”
Munoz, the Firestone Indy Lights championship points leader with two victories in three starts, also will compete in the Firestone Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 24. He’s in his second full season in the Mazda Road to Indy series with Andretti Autosport.
The road to Indianapolis started in October after Munoz closed the season with a victory on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval.
“Michael said that we’ll have another car to go to Indianapolis and we started to work it out with the sponsors back in Colombia,” said Munoz, who was runner-up in the 2012 Firestone Freedom 100. “The sponsors said we can do it, and I can’t miss this opportunity. You might have it only once.
“My goal is to win the (Firestone Indy Lights) championship and to have a full season in (the IZOD IndyCar Series). I know the mentality of the Indy 500; the main goal is the last 30 laps. I’m on a good team with good teammates so it’s the best combination I could have.”