As many as five cars could carry this emblem in the 2014 IndyCar Series. (LAT photo)
With 2012 IndyCar Series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay under contract and the recent re-signing of Marco Andretti and James Hinchcliffe, Andretti Autosport is drawing closer to finalizing its fourth driver for its 2014 IndyCar campaign.
Indy 500 runner-up Carlos Munoz, who just completed his second season of Firestone Indy Lights with the Michael Andretti-owned operation, is coming off a star performance as a stand-in for Andretti's E.J. Viso at Fontana, and after months of work behind the scenes, is drawing closer to becoming the team's fourth full-time IndyCar driver.
“We're getting really close on Munoz,” Andretti Autosport Sr. VP John Lopes told RACER. “We're not ready to make any statements, but our people and Carlos's people are working very hard to get the last bit done and I'm starting to feel good about it.”
Andretti Autosport ran four cars this season, with a fifth for Munoz during the month of May, and despite the lack of clarity with Viso's future, Lopes, who also serves as the team's chief marketing officer, is confident the team will be back with at least four cars.
“We're going to operate the [Viso] car,” he added. “The news is we'll be running a minimum of four cars, and we're close on the fifth car, but that isn't ready to be announced.”
Viso, who told this writer his absence at Fontana stemmed from eating tainted oysters which led to stomach issues, had been evaluating his option for 2014 prior to the IndyCar season finale. With his manager, former Indy car ace Adrian Fernandez, searching for the best deal available, Viso's modest annual budget led him to consider a switch to the new TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
The recent announcement of an investigation involving Venezuelan drivers and their state-sponsored motor racing activities has resulted in many questions about their respective futures. It's unclear if Viso, who has carried branding from Venezuelan petroleum company PDVSA and its subsidiary Citgo since joining the IndyCar Series, will be affected by whatever findings are made by his government.
It's too early to tell whether Viso will return to Andretti, but if he does, Lopes says it wouldn't necessarily be in an open-wheel car.
“We had an excellent experience with E.J. this year, he's always welcome back — we'd love to have him back,” he noted. “We've been looking at some IndyCar stuff, some sports car stuff, and some other series. We had a very positive experience with E.J. and hope we can continue to work together.”