Carlos Munoz and Conor Daly are convinced it’s time for the next generation of young racers to be contenders in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
The 24-year-old drivers will look to assert themselves with AJ Foyt Racing in 2017 in a deal announced today that has both signed to drive for the winningest driver in Indy car history. Munoz will drive the No. 14 entry based out of the team’s shop in suburban Houston. Daly will drive the No. 4 car based at the team’s second shop in Speedway, Ind. Both cars will continue to be sponsored by ABC Supply Co.
“It’s a new chapter in my life. I’m really honored to be on this team,” Munoz said. “There were a lot of options and I know a lot of drivers called (team president) Larry Foyt. I think the best teammate is Conor. First, he’s American. Fans really like him and he’s a really good driver. He has experience.
“INDYCAR needs a change in generations and it’s starting right now. We are both young and we are both really fast drivers, so I think it’s a great combination for the team.”
A.J. and Larry Foyt promised major changes after a disappointing 2016 season with drivers Takuma Sato and Jack Hawksworth for the full year and Alex Tagliani for two races. Sato had the best finishes with a pair of fifths. He finished 17th in the points and Hawksworth placed 20th.
Sato’s 2013 victory at Long Beach is Foyt Racing’s only win since 2003.
Munoz finished 10th in the 2016 championship, the highest points position for an Andretti Autosport driver. The Colombian has one career win at Belle Isle in 2015 and is a two-time Indianapolis 500 runner-up, including his series debut in 2013, when Daly also made his first start in the same race for Foyt and finished 22nd.
“He was hard to beat there in his Andretti machine, when he started on the front row as a rookie,” Daly said of Munoz. “That was pretty impressive. We know he’s really good at Indy and really good on the ovals, for sure. He’s very brave. I have a lot of respect for him. We know he’s got a lot of experience, although we’re both young. We’re both the same age. It’s just two good, young drivers ready to continue our INDYCAR careers.”
Daly, from Noblesville, Ind., is coming off his first fulltime Verizon IndyCar Series season in which he had five top-six finishes, including a career-best second at Belle Isle for Dale Coyne Racing. He finished 18th in the points.
Daly said he always kept in touch with Foyt after that first Indy 500 three years ago.
“They gave me such an opportunity to get into the Verizon IndyCar Series,” Daly said. “They took a chance on me when Takuma couldn’t get into the country for a test, they tested me. After that, they hired me to drive in the Indy 500. They paid me to drive when I was 21 and coming out of Indy Lights. It was a really cool program to be a part of. They gave me my first taste and ever since then I’ve had a really good relationship with them.
“I’m certainly a very, very different driver compared to 2013. I’m certainly much more ready to jump in and deliver. Thankfully, Dale Coyne gave me an opportunity to get my foot in the door and here we are. We make the progression to another team. Hopefully we can be here for a good amount of time. I’d like to be with this team for more than a year. You have to take it as it comes day by day, but I’m excited to at least get back to work and have a deal done sooner rather than later.”
Munoz and Daly were actually teammates once before for a karting race a decade ago. Munoz doesn’t remember the experience, but Daly recalled his teammate being quick and helpful.
Both were in a similar situation as free agents in need of sponsorship this offseason. That won’t be a problem now because Foyt has a long-term deal with ABC Supply.
“As we celebrate our 35th anniversary at ABC Supply, we are very happy to be continuing our relationship with AJ Foyt Racing,” Keith Rozolis, ABC Supply Co. Inc. president and chief executive officer, said in a released statement. “They’ve been part of the ABC team since 2005 and our associates and customers look forward to watching Carlos and Conor compete and win in 2017.”
Munoz said he understands how the business side of racing led to him not being retained by Andretti. While some drivers might be upset about not getting a new contract after being the team’s highest points finisher, Munoz expressed gratitude to his former employer of six years, the first two in Indy Lights.
“I’m always thankful to them,” he said. “They gave me my career back in auto racing from the first year I came here to the United States from Europe. That last year in Europe was really tough, so it was my last chance in America or retire. They gave me a great shot here in America to race in my first Indy 500 and I did well. I’m always going to be respectful to them. Just nowadays, you have to find a sponsor. We were bringing a little sponsor from Colombia, and this year was the limit for everything.
“But I’m not disappointed with them. On the contrary, I’ll always be grateful to them, with Michael and everybody who works at Andretti. We have to be realistic in motorsports right now. It’s really tough to find the sponsor that we need, we didn’t have the whole budget to be 100 percent on the grid next year. This was the best for us. I wish them the best.”
As the stepson of Indianapolis Motor Speedway president Doug Boles, Daly was raised with an appreciation for that track’s racing history. That inevitably meant Daly respected and admired A.J. Foyt, the first four-time Indy 500 winner.
“I love A.J.,” Daly said. “I have a lot of respect for him and I do love the way he is. There’s no messing around with A.J. He’ll give it to you straight. A lot of people won’t do that these days. It’s cool to be working with him again.
“I really, really, really want to bring those guys a race win and some success because they deserve it after the last couple of years, it’s been rough (for them). If we just keep on building a team and building on my experience level, there’s no telling what we’ll be able to achieve this year.”
Because he’s come so close to winning the Indy 500, Munoz is excited about another run in May.
“I love that race,” Munoz said. “I’ve raced in it four times and I know how big the race is. I know what it means to win that race. I’ve been really close twice, if I can be honest. I have two seconds, one fourth and another one I had a penalty when I was running fifth. I’ve had really good races there.
“I’m not putting my main objective on winning the Indy 500. Of course, everyone wants to win it. But I think what we need to do first is put in good work with the engineers and with the mechanics and everybody who comes on board this year. We need to do a good job and do our best each race. But for sure one of the goals of the team is to do really good in the Indy 500.”