Armstrong getting up to speed quickly with Chip Ganassi Racing

I can’t stress this enough this week that testing speeds at the Thermal Club are about as relevant as a Blockbuster rewards card. There’s nothing to be gained when looking at the daily speed charts because there’s nothing to be learned in the speed department. But a good barometer for this test however, if shaking off the cobwebs and relearning your team again. For Chip Ganassi Racing rookie Marcus Armstrong, this test is also a great team building exercise.

See, this is the first on track time that Armstrong has had with his new team. His other NTT INDYCAR Series tests came with Dale Coyne Racing. He did so well, it landed him on Ganassi’s radar. When Jimmie Johnson elected to not come back in 2023, it left a ride open.

Armstrong, 22, was also searching himself. While he had no United States background over here, he did witness what Callum Ilott and Christian Lundgaard were doing in their first full-time seasons. Both were F2 competitors of his and all three remain friends to this day.

Instead of racing for a fourth different team in as many years in F2, Armstrong figured the door that Ilott opened would be the best route that he could take.

It led him to one of the top seats in the series at Ganassi.

Thursday was the first day behind the wheel of his No. 11 Dallara-Honda that he’ll drive in 12 of the 17 races for the upcoming season.

Marcus Armstrong tests at the Thermal Club on Thursday. Photo Credit: INDYCAR Media Site

“Yeah, it was a cool day. I mean, I enjoyed it from start to finish. We were very organized, and we got through our program that we wanted to do,” he said.

“I mean, at the beginning everyone waited a lot longer than what I was expecting anyway. I think I was, yeah, maybe the first one to go out and do a proper run.

“But straightaway I felt confident with the car. The way this INDYCAR, obviously my second day in an INDYCAR, still learning the whole car, but this Ganassi car certainly gives me a lot of confidence. The way it moves is very natural, if that makes sense. Just, yeah, enjoyable from start to finish.”

That backed up what Armstrong was looking for when he got started with the team. See, he knows the rich successful history of this organization and knew that even as a rookie, there’s not many excuses to not succeed. 46 laps later on Thursday, he sat 10th on the timing charts.

“I mean, yeah, I want to hit the ground running,” he said. “I said that the other day. I think that, yeah, all the ingredients are there to do so.

“I feel very comfortable in the car. Honestly, it’s not massively dissimilar to what I’m used to in F2. I think there’s a few things that I prefer about this car, suits me a bit more. The way it moves is very natural. I think there’s potential to do good things.”

A thing that shocked Armstrong somewhat was that he was able instantly to identify what he wanted in the car.

“Yeah, I feel like I was actually surprised I could identify what I wanted straightaway,” he continued. “Obviously the car felt pretty good from the get-go. I feel like it was easy to identify what I wanted to change, so we ended up getting through a lot of test items. We had planned obviously quite a few test items.

“It’s also good for me just to experience them, positive or negative, just to see how they feel because I haven’t felt it in an INDYCAR before.

“It was good to go through a lot of things, like I said, good or bad, just to know what they feel like.”

Armstrong made reference on what made it such a smooth transition for himself is due to the professionalism of the team around him.

“Erik has been there, done that,” Armstrong boasted. “I’ve said that a million times. Yeah, he knows what he’s doing. He’s certainly worked with a few rookies, as well, a few veterans along the way.

“He’s very, very methodical I think and much like myself. I think it’s a really cool combination.

“Then Blair, he’s a Kiwi as well. He was with Scott during his prime, he’s still in his prime, but previous prime, Blair was with him. It’s cool to have a familiar accent in the headset.

“Generally, I think everyone’s really organized and I’m very impressed.”

Part of what made Armstrong so comfortable so early in terms of pace inside of the car too was the fact that the Thermal Club was reminiscent to him as a European track.

“It’s much like a European circuit, quite demanding on the neck, towards the end of the lap anyway,” he said.

The next progression of comfort comes from the fact that he has his hero Scott Dixon as a teammate. Both Dixon and Armstrong are Kiwis and the fact that Dixon, a six-time series champion, is a teammate, it helps decrease the learning curve dramatically.

“Scott has an aura that when he speaks, the room stops,” Armstrong said. “I was very much listening to his comments. He’s very, very open and honest about what he’s feeling. He’s obviously done it a million times.

“Yeah, it’s quite funny to see really because I’m aware that I’m seeing everything for the first time. I look over at him, I can see that he’s sort of got other things on his mind in a good way.

“But he’s been extremely helpful to me, not only today but just through the whole process. Very supportive, yeah.

“Everyone gets along really well. There’s a good synergy inside the team, especially with the drivers. It’s fun to trade stories with Marcus, as well. He’s obviously been there and done that in F1 in Europe. That’s sort of a scene I’m more so familiar with. Alex as well, I raced in F3.

“I feel like, yeah, it’s a good group of guys who have a lot of experience. Yeah, I can learn a lot from them.”

Experienced team around him, a car that suits him like the F2 car did, a track that reminds him of a European circuit and a countrymate as a teammate that’s one of the best there is in this sport. Sounds like we could be seeing a great year out of this rookie.

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