There are unique stories that happen at weddings, but the one for Carlos Munoz may have taken the cake.
Monday’s announcement of the 25-year-old Colombian’s return to Andretti Autosport in a sixth car for the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil is the latest in a robust entry list with the mega event still five months away.
Munoz confessed during a media teleconference today that conversations about his return began at Marco Andretti’s wedding in September. Munoz broached the subject with Michael Andretti, the groom’s father and Andretti Autosport CEO, along with team president J-F Thormann.
“Yeah, funny story because Marco invited me to his wedding,” said Munoz, who owns a pair of runner-up finishes and a fourth-place showing in five Indy 500 tries. “I went to the wedding. I start talking to J-F and Michael about what they're going to do next year. They said they're going to do six cars in the Indy 500, all in-house. I say, 'Whoa, that was interesting.'
“So we started talking after the wedding to see what was going on. Just a few days ago – I think last week – we finalized all the little details. But we knew we (were) going to race with them for a long time.”
Munoz spent five years with Andretti Autosport – two full seasons in Indy Lights and three-plus in the Verizon IndyCar Series – before moving to AJ Foyt Racing this year. He stunned the racing world by finishing second to Tony Kanaan in the 2013 Indianapolis 500 and nearly won “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” in 2016 before pitting late for fuel and surrendering first place to teammate Alexander Rossi.
“I've been with them for five years, so we know each other really well,” Munoz said. “Everything was pretty easy. Even if the contract was not signed yet, we knew it is going to work out in the end.
“(I’m) really happy to join the team again for the Indy 500 that I've been so close to (winning) it twice. So hopefully next year I have the car to be fighting again for the win.”
Patience wasn’t a virtue Munoz was willing to endure this offseason as he searched for a 2018 ride. He made signing with Andretti Autosport for a full season or the Indianapolis 500 only his “No. 1 priority.”
Munoz struggled much of the 2017 season driving the legendary No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet. His 16th-place finish in the championship was the worst of his four full seasons in the series. However, Munoz said he is taking positives from the situation that have helped him grow as a driver and as a person.
“First off, I'm thankful to have the opportunity that A.J. gave me to race with him,” said Munoz, a veteran of 70 Verizon IndyCar Series starts with one career win (Race 1 of the Detroit doubleheader in 2015). “Unfortunately, stuff didn't work out as we planned. But I think things happen for a reason. Right now, being in the Indy 500 with Andretti, that's pretty good, you know.
“Even though last year was a tough year, I think it helped me a lot, a lot, a lot. I think I'm (a) twice better driver than I was one year ago because having a different role as a driver, to be more involved with the team, with the technical (aspect), I learn so much engineering-wise last year.
With the depth of the Andretti Autosport engineering staff, Munoz said he can focus solely on driving to the best of his ability in May.
“Last year, I was thinking not only driving but talking to the engineers to make the car even better and to see what we can do, trying to take the team together,” he said. “I think it is going to be nice to go back a little bit, focus on driving 100 percent.”
“Now I have another chance to be in a good car for the 500. I think I'm going to put what I learn last year this year to the team, to Michael, to see that I have to really grow up on that part of me that I think I lacked a little bit in the past.”
Munoz said he has nothing set in the Verizon IndyCar Series or elsewhere besides the Indy 500 for the moment. He is hoping to add to that workload.
“I think it's going to be a little bit challenging personally because I've been racing the full season since I was 8 years old in go-karts, in formula (open-wheel cars), Munoz said. “I think it's going to be a little bit challenging for me because it's the first time I'm going to do that. So that means I have to stay really in shape, go to the gym a lot, doing a lot of go-kart (racing), for sure.
“As of right now, the 500, main focus (is) on that, then we are going to start working to try to do other races,” Munoz said. “But as of right now, I'm happy to be in the 500 with the best team, with a competitive team to win it.”