Most of the way through his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, Marcus Armstrong is still asking for more. More chances to race, more coaching, more years in the series.
Armstrong has made it clear he wants to return to Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2024 season, but that decision has not yet been made as the Indianapolis-based team works through its full lineup (only Scott Dixon is considered a lock to return).
Armstrong also wants a chance to compete in an oval-track race, although Takuma Sato will again drive the team’s No. 11 Honda in the season’s final oval race, the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Sunday, Aug. 27 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Given the above, Armstrong is asking to receive all the information he can to improve his standing within the team and the series. While he continues to shine as a rookie, the New Zealander who recently turned 23 wants to take the next step, and he said it starts with hard coaching from Dario Franchitti, the team’s advisor.
“Dario has been really, really great, (and) I think I’ve probably been on the phone to him about five times over the course of the last five days,” Armstrong said. “He’s great in every aspect, really.
“He certainly points me in the right direction. (But) I often say that he needs to be more harsh with me, like tell me what I’m doing wrong because clearly I need to improve on stuff.”
Armstrong is pleased that he has six top-11 finishes in his nine races on street circuits and road courses, including a pair of eighth-place finishes. He was 13th in Sunday’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville. But he aspires for more.
“Being top 10 in INDYCAR is one thing, being top three is another,” he said. “There’s still a big step to be made consistently with (teammates) Alex (Palou) and (Dixon), and the other Marcus (Marcus Ericsson) There’s a step to be made to being inside the top three.
“I think you can understate how high the level is right at the very pointy end of INDYCAR. I’m just going to keep trying to find bits and pieces to get that.”
Still, it’s been a productive first INDYCAR SERIES season for Armstrong. Despite not competing in the four oval-track races, he is 18th in the overall standings, three positions ahead of the next-highest series rookie, Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Agustin Canapino. Armstrong also has a 31-point cushion on Canapino, which will come in handy when he turns the No. 11 car over to Sato for the race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
The other three remaining races this season are on permanent road courses, where Armstrong will drive.
Armstrong has not put too much emphasis on the rookie standings, much less the overall standings. He wants to improve his craft and perhaps more significantly, he believes it is his obligation as a CGR driver to be a contender week in, week out. After all, he is a professional race car driver, and that is what is expected of him, in his opinion – first year in the series be damned.
So, Armstrong invests his energy where he can, regularly mining teammates for information and studying from the pit box at the ovals. Then there’s the extensive work he has done on the simulator since making the jump to the U.S.
“I’ve done more hours on a simulator than I could possibly imagine,” he said. “Doing the simulator in Europe when I know the circuits is one thing; doing it here preparing for a new circuit in America is a totally different game because I’m obviously seeing (the tracks) for the first time. So, I prepare a lot more, I would say, from my sim sessions this season than I have in the past just because I sort of need to make the most of my time.
“Also, the team is very helpful, let’s say, by allowing me to go normally the last of the four drivers, and that means that I get a whole lot of data to look at for when it’s my turn to drive.”
This week presents another opportunity for Armstrong to learn and, for the first time, benefit from his accumulated knowledge. That’s because Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course will be the first venue this season where Armstrong has racing experience, although a 15th-place finish in the GMR Grand Prix on May 13 was his second-lowest result of the season.
Still, it’s a chance to race, a chance to be coached, a chance to prepare for more years in the series. That’s what drives him.
On-track action for Armstrong and the NTT INDYCAR SERIES begins Friday at IMS with the first practice at 9 a.m. ET. NTT P1 Award qualifying is set for 12:30 p.m. ET with the final practice at 4 p.m. ET. All of Friday’s sessions can be consumed on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.