Marcus Armstrong is already preparing for his second season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES even as he technically hasn’t completed his first.
Still to come for this year’s series Rookie of the Year are races on the oval tracks, which is why he was recently learning Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s historic 2.5-mile circuit as part of the Rookie Orientation Program for the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. The 108th Running of “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” is Sunday, May 26.
Armstrong also still needs to race at Iowa Speedway, where there will be a doubleheader July 13-14, and World Wide Technology Raceway, site of the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline on Aug. 17, and of course there’s return of the Milwaukee Mile, which is back on the series’ schedule for the first time since 2015. The Mile will host races Aug. 31 and Sept. 1.
Although Armstrong has yet to race on such tracks, he said he feels more confident than he did a year ago at this time. In fact, he believes the approach for him at Chip Ganassi Racing has changed, too.
“I mean, there’s no external pressure, if that’s what you’re asking,” he said. “I would say (this year’s performance in 12 races) actually removes a bit of pressure, if anything, because I don’t have to learn a lot of the tracks for the first time, which was quite not an easy thing.”
Armstrong was among the series’ most consistent drivers in the recently completed season even if he wasn’t always in the No. 11 Honda. Two-thirds of his races ended with a finish in the top half of what was at least a 27-car field. He had a seventh-place finish, three eighths, a ninth, two 11ths and a 13th among his 12 starts, and his qualifying performances were nearly as balanced. Six times he reached the second round of knockout qualifying.
While it might be easy to suggest Armstrong was often in the second tier of challengers at events, consider how strong and experienced the overall field was this season. The top 12 in the final point standings are former race winners in the series, and 14 of the top 15 finishers are. In all, 21 of the 37 drivers who entered a race this season have been to victory lane in this series at some point in their careers.
Also consider Chip Ganassi’s organization fielded three drivers who have incredible series resumes. Scott Dixon has won 56 races and six championships. Alex Palou has won two of the past three season titles. Marcus Ericsson nearly won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge for a second straight year.
For Armstrong to crack the top six in qualifying or a race, he also had to beat three race-winning Team Penske drivers – Josef Newgarden, Will Power and Scott McLaughlin – and title threats at Arrow McLaren and Andretti Global.
Fact is, it’s impressive that Armstrong finished as well in those races as he did, especially when, as a 23-year-old New Zealander, his professional career had been spent in Europe until this time last year when he first tested an NTT INDYCAR SERIES machine with Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring International Raceway.
It’s easy to imagine he’ll have a better second season here. He thinks he will.
“Going around and doing the (series) circuits again for a second time will certainly give me a lot more confidence and comfort, I would say,” he said. “And, then having (teammates) Alex and Scott and Linus (Lundqvist) and Kyffin (Simpson) as reference is also really, really good, as well, because we have quite a lot of talent on the team and a lot of talent in the engineering office, too.
“So, yeah, I’m confident for the upcoming season.”
Like Lundqvist and fellow “500” newcomers Tom Blomqvist of Meyer Shank Racing and 2021 NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Larson of Arrow McLaren, Armstrong efficiently worked through the rookie program at IMS. He acknowledged that the weather gave the four drivers “perfect” conditions.
Armstrong knows there is still much to learn in advance of his first “500,” but he’s ready for the next part of the challenge. That likely will come with an April Open Test at IMS.
“It was special, honestly,” he said of the first day on the big oval. “I didn’t know what to expect in many ways coming (to it). I’ve obviously done a few laps around (Texas Motor Speedway) before.
“So, having not a lot of oval experience, it’s not easy. It’s very high speeds, a lot of nuances to (IMS), a lot of details. If I’m honest, I wasn’t nervous about doing it – it was more so just about trying to get the first run out of the way so we know what to do better next time.”
Next time. That’s what Armstrong is looking for. A second time around, which he expects to be even better than the first time around.