Marcus Armstrong was back on track Wednesday, just days after signing a multiyear contract to continue with Chip Ganassi Racing in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES and clinching the Rookie of the Year Award by 34 points over Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino.
With veteran CGR driver Scott Dixon prepping the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda, Armstrong completed 180 laps at Texas Motor Speedway to complete the first part of his orientation to oval tracks. He said the experience felt “a lot more natural than I anticipated,” a good sign for him at the events to come in 2024 and beyond.
“It was quite fast,” Armstrong said of the 1.5-mile banked Texas oval. “It was an awesome experience, and I really enjoyed it.
“The proper first run in the morning was great. I was just smiling after that first run and even on the in-lap I had a different reaction to what I was expecting. It was a lot more natural than I anticipated, and I felt at one with the car later in the day. I found that it was a lot easier to trust the car and the banking.”
The test also featured IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship winner Tom Blomqvist in Meyer Shank Racing's No. 60 Honda. Four-time Texas winner Helio Castroneves, who has moved into a team co-ownership and driver coach role with MSR, was there to assist.
In addition to Dixon, the six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion who drove the car’s first five laps, Armstrong said he received valuable advice from four-time series champion and team advisor Dario Franchitti along with team engineers Eric Cowdin and Blair Julian.
Next up for the native of Christchurch, New Zealand, is the Oct. 11 oval test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway in preparation for the 108th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Few "500" newcomers Blomqvist, Linus Lundqvist (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Kyle Larson (Arrow McLaren) are also expected to participate in the session.
Meantime, INDYCAR.com features Five Questions with the standout driver:
Question: It sounds like the Texas test went ever better than you could have imagined.
Armstrong: Overall, it was a very positive experience, and I’m very grateful that Dario, Scott, Eric and Blair could help me out throughout the day.
Question: How would you assess your first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season?
Armstrong: I think we finished every race. We were consistent. We had some good results. Sometimes I think we could have done a lot better. But yeah, we were consistent and fast enough to win (Rookie of the Year) without (competing on) the ovals.
Question: You had six top-11 finishes in 12 starts. Was there a particular event that stood out as your best?
Armstrong: My favorite race of the year was (the Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix presented by Lear), which was just chaos, survival mode at one point, just like (last weekend’s season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca). The layout and the bumps made it quite a nice circuit. I would say the toughest race of the year was (the Honda Indy Toronto), which was actually my best result (seventh). Weirdly enough, I didn’t really feel at home at that track. Learning it was quite difficult, probably the most difficult circuit of the season. With the tarmac changes (and) bumps, it was like driving around a car park at one point. That was difficult. As I said, we had our best result there, so maybe I’m at my best when I’m uncomfortable.
Question: How have you found the lifestyle change while racing in this series?
Armstrong: I have (enjoyed it). It’s quite different to racing in Europe. There is certainly a family culture that is embedded inside the team, which is not common in high-performing racing teams. There’s always a mix between professionalism and a social environment within this team, which I think I like a lot more than what I’ve experienced previously. I feel like they have brought me into their (CGR) family and really taught me everything. Everyone’s been open. I’ve asked (Dixon) a million and one questions, so I’m very annoying. Everyone else as well. They’ve all answered truthfully as far as I know. It’s been great.
Question: Was it a challenge to get acclimated to the series without as much testing as you would have preferred?
Armstrong: I would say I get more track time than in other series that I’ve done, like F2 last year. I think (there) we were really, really tight on (aggressive) laps – that for another reason, because the tire there just can’t do so many (such) laps. Here, I actually think I’ve done quite a decent amount of laps in the race weekends.