TORONTO (AP) — Carlos Munoz got back to his hotel following the Indy Lights race expecting to catch a 6 a.m. flight home Sunday morning.
A call from Panther Racing dramatically changed his travel plans.
The team had just learned from doctors that Ryan Briscoe had broken his right wrist in a crash late in Saturday’s race, and Panther needed a replacement for Sunday’s event at Exhibition Place. They asked Munoz to step in for what will be just his second IndyCar race of his career.
He fared just fine, successfully pulling off the first standing start in IndyCar, and staying out of trouble to finish 17th.
“It was a long race and a hard race for me,” he said. “It was basically my first time in an Indy car on a street course and I didn’t know what to expect to be in a race here with so many cars out there. We continued to drop lap times and I got more and more comfortable with each lap, and by the end we put together quite a good lap, which are all positive things.
“My goal was to finish, and I finished, and I’m very happy to have this opportunity.”
It was a quick turnaround for Munoz, who never expected to receive the call from Panther.
“I was really surprised because it was really late and normally you don’t call a driver who doesn’t have any experience driving an Indy car on a road course,” Munoz said.
Munoz’s first IndyCar race wasn’t too shabby, though. He finished second in the Indianapolis 500 this year driving for Andretti Autosport.
But at Indy, the 21-year-old Colombian was on track almost two full weeks preparing for the race. At Toronto, he got 30 minutes in Sunday morning’s warm-up session to prepare for his first career road course race in an IndyCar.
Fortunately, the Indy Lights points leader is familiar with the track after finishing fourth in Saturday’s race.
Unfortunately, he had no idea he’d be in the Indy car and didn’t have his seat with him in Toronto. But team owner Michael Andretti and his engineers encouraged him to race for Panther.
“They said, ‘Hey, you have to take this chance to have an opportunity to get more experience, more laps,’” Munoz said. “I’m grateful to have this opportunity and they have the confidence for it.”
Munoz has three wins, two poles and six top-fives this year in Indy Lights.
Since firing J.R. Hildebrand after the Indianapolis 500, Panther Racing has been using Briscoe and Oriol Servia in its car. Briscoe drives when he doesn’t have a conflict with his ALMS schedule and was set to run in both races at Toronto. So Servia was not in Canada to jump in the car on short notice.
Briscoe needs surgery and is out at least until next month’s race at Mid-Ohio.
“Carlos is a tremendous young driver with a great deal of talent,” Panther owner John Barnes said. “We’re excited that he was available to drive the National Guard Chevrolet today on such short notice, and I’m sure this will be a great learning experience for him. We’re obviously wishing Ryan a speedy recovery, but also very happy to make the most of this opportunity with Carlos today.”
Munoz had no other IndyCar races on his schedule this year following his breakout performance at Indy. He’d been trying to get into the August race at Sonoma, but with the focus on winning the Indy Lights championship has made long-term planning difficult.
Still, he hopes to be racing full-time in IndyCar next season and wants to use Sunday as a learning experience.