Marcus Armstrong has always enjoyed the NTT INDYCAR SERIES from afar.
His childhood days in New Zealand were spent cheering fellow countryman Scott Dixon. In more recent years while racing – and winning – in FIA Formula 2, the feeder series to Formula One, he’s watched friends and former colleagues leave to join North America’s premier open-wheel championship. Both former roommate Callum Ilott and former teammate Christian Lundgaard, who paired alongside Armstrong at ART Grand Prix in 2020, just completed their respective rookie campaigns in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES after multiple years in F2.
So, Armstrong already was plenty familiar with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES when it was announced Dec. 2 he will drive the No. 11 Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing on road and street events in 2023.
"Firstly, it's an extraordinary championship, very competitive, increasingly more well-known over here in Europe, and it's massively attractive to all of us young guns in Europe,” said Armstrong, 22. “The races are often televised at quite convenient times for us, so we always watch it, and everyone has the same opinion on INDYCAR: The car is awesome. You can even see from the TV that they're awesome cars. And then, as well, the competition is fierce, and the racing is extremely close and competitive. So, that is the fundamental reason why I'm attracted to the championship.
“Secondly, I think, as well, that I've always been a fan of the championship from a young age. I'm obviously not from Europe; I'm from New Zealand. So, with Scott Dixon, in particular, doing well, I've always been watching the championship, and it's always been a target for me. The time is right, and I'm extremely grateful for the opportunity to join Chip Ganassi Racing on the road and street courses."
Although Armstrong is coming off his most successful campaign in three seasons in F2, scoring three wins in 2022, the switch to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES allows for him to properly root himself into a championship.
“I've always wanted to find something that I can really put my focus on and work toward,” Armstrong said. “Formula 2 is not massively dissimilar in terms of car performance. Obviously, there's a few differences here and there with the tire and downforce and what not, but it's not exactly a sustainable championship. It's the sort of championship that you go there for a couple of years to prove yourself.
“For me, I want to be somewhere where I can really focus on it and spend a number of years in the same championships. I'm in love with single-seater cars, in general, and the car, in particular, just with the way that you have to push the car so hard.”
There is also some familiarity with driving an INDYCAR, too.
Armstrong tested for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports at Sebring International Raceway in October, logging 131 laps on a rookie evaluation day on the 1.7-mile short course layout. While he drew comparisons to driving an F2 car, he cited substantially more grip with the Firestone tires, which also created better input and feel.
“The car is quite agile, and you can really feel it sliding, as opposed to an F2 car where the tire is very different and the way it behaves is often you can't exactly feel how the car is moving,” Armstrong said. “My first impression of an Indy car is you can drive it quite sideways, firstly, because the tire doesn't just overheat, but as well you can really feel it. So that, to me, was nice and I was expecting it because I've spoken to quite a few people about the car, and I have a lot of friends in INDYCAR, as well.
“I thought that it was physically demanding. Formula 2, as well, is not easy, so I live in a gym, basically. It's not unusual for me to be preparing for a physical car, but I thought that the track itself at Sebring was very small and quite intense. My heart rate was quite a bit higher than what it would be on a European circuit with a bit more rest in between corners.”
When looking at next season, Armstrong doesn’t have a preferred race weekend. However, he’s grown fond of street circuits since his early days in the Formula 3 European Championship, so there’s an eagerness to experience Detroit, Nashville, Long Beach, St. Petersburg and Toronto.
While he will spend his maiden campaign getting acclimated to only the road and street circuits, there is a desire at some point to experience running ovals.
“I'm very attracted to that side of INDYCAR,” Armstrong said. “It's obviously something different, something that I need to completely learn from zero, but I am very keen to try it out. This season, it's obviously not on the cards, but let's just say if it was up to me, I'd want to do the full thing because it's one of the most ... the Indy 500 is so iconic. So, yes, I'd like to.”
One unique part of Armstrong joining the CGR stable will be working alongside childhood hero and six-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion Dixon. If needed, Armstrong has a visor he got when he was 8 years old that should serve as a good icebreaker.
“He was doing a charity event in Christchurch, New Zealand, maybe 15 years ago or something like that,” Armstrong said. “I went and I bought a signed visor from that event, and it had like the Target sticker on the top, and I still have it. So, I'm not sure how Scott's going to react to that story, but it's kind of funny.”