Marcus Armstrong

It’s a sign of Marcus Armstrong’s rapid ascension in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES that he was disappointed Friday when he earned the best qualifying result of his rookie season.

The driver of the No. 11 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing will start 11th in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix, but Armstrong wanted so much more, and he felt he and the car were deserving of it.

“We just didn’t do a very good job on that last run,” he said while walking quietly toward Gasoline Alley. “A decent position – it’s not a disaster.”

As part of a rookie deal with Chip Ganassi’s team, Armstrong is only competing on the road courses and street circuits, which means this is his fourth event of the season (of five the series has staged). He similarly reached the second round of qualifying in the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, but he advanced no further on that day, starting 12th.

Armstrong likely would have started – and finished – higher at the most recent race, the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix at Barber Motorsports Park, but a penalty he didn’t think he deserved relegated him to the 26th starting spot (of 27). He drove masterfully to the 11th position.

Armstrong won four races in Europe’s F2 series before arriving in the U.S., and his talent has been on display in finishing 11th, eighth and 11th in his three races in this series. Now, he wants more, and he feels ready for it.

“Yes, I do,” he said. “I think we proved that today.”

Grosjean: ‘We’re Here’

While unhappy qualifying 18th Friday, Romain Grosjean is off to a strong start this season, ranking fifth in the standings for Andretti Autosport on the strength of back-to-back finishes in the past two races (the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach and the race at Barber Motorsports Park).

What the driver of the No. 28 DNSFilter/DHL Honda hasn’t been able to do is outrun the questions about when he will get his first series victory. But he doesn’t need a trophy to validate the success he’s having this season.

“Barber was close, (we were) close in St. Pete,” he said. “We’re here.

“The win is going to come whenever it comes. If you finish every time like this, it’s going to be good for the championship. We just keep going.”

Grosjean certainly doesn’t lack confidence, part of the reason he has been a factor in each of the four races this season. He was taken out of the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg by Scott McLaughlin’s defensive move approaching Turn 4, and he finished second in his first two INDYCAR SERIES starts on the IMS road course in 2021. He is the team’s top performer this season.

“Was I expecting to be so successful (in INDYCAR)? Yes, I think I'm one of the best around this job,” Grosjean said. “I won every championship before getting to Formula One. Never, sadly, (did I get) the chance to have the car (in F1) to win races. Was close a few times.

“I mean, yes, I think I'm pretty decent at what I do. That's what I love doing, as well. It works pretty well.”

A Competitive Top Eight

INDYCAR staged a press conference Thursday with the top five drivers in the standings, and it was noteworthy that three drivers who have combined to win 10 series championships – Josef Newgarden, reigning champion Will Power and Scott Dixon – were not in the group. They rank sixth, seventh and eighth, respectively, in the standings.

The top five are Marcus Ericsson, Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, McLaughlin and Grosjean. The top eight drivers are separated by just 32 points through four races.

“Twenty-seven cars, (and) I can name you at least 15 that can win the race over the weekend,” Grosjean said. “I think that's a huge difference.

“Obviously, we all set it up to the best of our ability, capacity. That's what makes the difference, but that's why the lap times are so close. I could be driving a very oversteery car, (McLaughlin) could be driving an understeery car, maybe at the end we do the same lap time.”

As for those top eight in the standings, some of them will have a lot of work to do in Saturday’s race. Newgarden will start 13th, McLaughlin 16th and Grosjean 18th. Even Ericsson (seventh), Dixon (ninth) and Power (12th) must work their way up to get to the podium.

A Helmet for Riley

Drivers often use the spotlight of IMS to show off new helmet designs, and Ericsson has one this weekend benefiting Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health, which the reigning champion of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge has visited several times.

The mostly white helmet has artwork created by four Riley patients. The driver of the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda said the helmet will be auctioned following the race, with all proceeds going to the hospital.

“(Living) in Indianapolis for, what, five years now, so (I) came up with this idea,” Ericsson said. “It was a friend of mine, an NHL goalkeeper, who did something similar earlier this week, so we came up with this idea to do something with Riley. Went and contacted them about this idea … they thought it was a great idea.

“I got some different paintings and sent them to my (helmet) designer. He made a design, picked out our paintings that we put on the helmet.”

Ericsson added that it was important to him that it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, “which I think is a very important subject, especially for kids these days with how it is.

“So, yeah, it’s multiple reasons (for the helmet), and it feels fantastic. I think it’s for a great cause.”

What Kind of Cookie?

The “500” has been described a number of ways, but O’Ward has come up with a new one: The Big Cookie. O’Ward isn’t sure how he came up with that.

“I probably heard it somewhere, (and) it just stuck with me,” the driver of the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet said. “It’s just a bad-ass race. No other way to say it.”

Odds and Ends

  • Helio Castroneves (No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda) lost an engine in Friday’s second practice, requiring a change for qualifying. He said it was the engine Meyer Shank Racing planned to use in “500” qualifying.
  • Josef Newgarden (No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Chevrolet) also got hit with bad luck. On the lap that would have been his best in the first round of qualifying, Benjamin Pedersen spun in front of him in the No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet. “It’s unfortunate because that was the lap (to excel),” said Newgarden, who missed transferring to the second round by one position and will start 13th.
  • Colton Herta (No. 26 Gainbridge Honda) will start from the 14th position, but that might not be bad. His last two series victories came from that spot, including last year’s GMR Grand Prix (his most recent victory).
  • Chip Ganassi Racing’s Alex Palou (No. 10 The American Legion Honda) is the only driver to have completed every lap this season. Last year, Power and Dixon became the first pair of series drivers to accomplish that feat in the same season.
  • Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) had a massive slide in Turn 9, reminiscent of the one Herta had in last year’s GMR Grand Prix. Dixon’s incident was in the first round of qualifying, but he was able to advance nonetheless.
  • There hasn’t been a formal announcement, but Sam Schmidt, a co-owner of Arrow McLaren, said 2013 Indianapolis 500 champion Tony Kanaan will remain with the team as he moves away from driving after this year’s “500” and into something of a coaching role. Kanaan made reference to the new gig during a Peacock interview last month at Barber Motorsports Park.
  • Matteo Nannini (No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Racing) won the pole for Saturday’s 35-lap INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix (1 p.m., Peacock, INDYCAR Live, INDYCAR Radio Network). The pole was the first for the series rookie from Italy.
  • Juncos Hollinger Racing has partnered with Founders Grounds Coffee, a coffee shop in Speedway, to collect toys for families being supported by the Ronald McDonald House of Central Indiana. Toy donations can be dropped off at either Founders Grounds Coffee location (1414 N. Main St. 2nd Floor, Speedway, or next to the IMS Museum) during their normal business hours, or at Juncos Hollinger Racing Shop (4401 Gilman St. Indianapolis) on Wednesdays from 2-3 p.m. Toys will be collected up through the “500.”
  • For the first time, BorgWarner has launched co-branded Borg-Warner Trophy merchandise. The items are available through all Legends retail operations at IMS.