A wind-swept Texas Motor Speedway high-banked oval at 216 mph-plus April 16 was quite a departure from Long Beach, where three days earlier Carlos Munoz posted his first Verizon IndyCar Series podium on a road/street course.
Munoz joined 17 other Verizon IndyCar Series drivers on the 1.5-mile racetrack in testing four potential aerodynamic specifications for the Firestone 600 on June 7. The 26th Verizon IndyCar Series race at Texas Motor Speedway is the second of the six diverse ovals on the schedule – from superspeedways such as the Indianapolis Motor Speedway to short ovals such as .875-mile Iowa Speedway.
Quickening the pace in the Honda-powered No. 34 Cinsay AndrettiTV.com HVM suited Munoz, who leaped onto the international stage with a runner-up finish in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and five months later ran among the leaders in the season finale on the 2-mile Auto Club Speedway oval for Andretti Autosport. He also was a last-minute replacement for the injured Ryan Briscoe for Toronto 2, in which he qualified eighth in the Panther Racing car.
Those initial Verizon IndyCar Series races – while running the full Indy Lights schedule – proved to be a confidence boost for 2014. Munoz qualified seventh in the opener at St. Petersburg (finishing 17th) and gained eight positions relative to his starting position on the 1.968-mile, 11-turn Long Beach circuit.
“It’s a lot of confidence for me that I know I can fight with the top guys,” Munoz said. “Will (Power) has a lot of wins here, a lot of poles. (Race winner Mike) Conway, he's also won in the past year, so it gives me confidence I know I can be also really fast on tracks and on the road courses. Each race I learn something new.”
He was running fourth on a Lap 71 restart – the fourth and final of the 80-lap race – and picked up a spot when race leader Scott Dixon had to pit for fuel on Lap 78. Still, like every race car driver, he wanted more.
“I just pushed pretty hard on the last two laps to try to overtake Will, but it was really difficult even though I had some push to pass,” said Munoz, 22, of Colombia. “But I'm happy; second podium in INDYCAR and first podium this year. So I'm going to keep pushing.”
Munoz won the Indy Lights races at Long Beach and Barber Motorsports Park (the next stop April 25-27) in 2013 – among his four victories en route to third place in the championship standings.
“It helps me to know the track, to know the lines because the lines are exactly 100 percent the same (between the cars), but how you drive it is completely different because the tires are different. Indy Lights is sprint race, to push the whole race. This one you have to think a little bit more of the tires and everything. You have to be competitive and consistent on all kinds of ovals and on road and street courses.”
Power, whose victory at St. Petersburg and second place at Long Beach put him atop the championship standings, was duly impressed by Munoz’s effort and other young drivers in the series.
“These guys are definitely putting the pressure on,” said Power, who’s won twice in the four races on the 2.38-mile, 17-turn Barber road course. “They're quick, really quick. They're not making mistakes either. Carlos was super quick and very good in the Indy 500 last year. He's just backing it up this year and showing everyone how to do it on road courses as well.”