MRTI: Pigot, O’Ward, Jamin lead Griffis Memorial Test at IMS

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Some of the rising stars on the North American open-wheel ladder were in action this weekend at the Chris Griffis Memorial Mazda Road to Indy test on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. Here’s a recap per the an MRTI release:

Two days of testing for all three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy concluded today during the fourth annual Chris Griffis Memorial Test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. A total of 25 drivers participated in the outing which serves as an “audition” platform for both teams and drivers looking ahead to 2015 campaigns.

Verizon IndyCar Series driver Josef Newgarden was also on hand for demonstration laps aboard the new AER-powered Dallara IL-15 which will make its competition debut next season in Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. The 2011 Indy Lights champion unofficially shattered Matthew Brabham’s track record of 1:18.4256 set in May of this year with a lap of 1:16.540.

“First off, thanks to everyone that allowed me to do this shakedown of the car and demonstrate it here at the test,” said Newgarden. “I was excited because I heard a lot about it from other drivers and I really wanted to try it for myself. After experiencing it, I would really like to run both championships next year. I honestly would. If somehow we could work it out where I could run the Lights championship and IndyCar championship, I think it would be so much fun especially with a brand new car like this. It is such a proper race car and they did a really good job with it. The transition between the Lights and the Indy car are going to be really close and a lot of things that work for the guys in IndyCar are going to work for the guys in Lights. It’s a perfect training ground. The cars are super similar and the guys are going to have fun with it. I’m excited for everything that is happening now in Indy Lights.”

Spencer Pigot led the charge in Indy Lights testing. Driving for Schmidt Peterson Motorsports w/ Curb-Agajanian, the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship Presented by Cooper Tires title holder was quickest in each of the four outings. NASCAR Sprint Cup Rookie Parker Kligerman was second on the timesheets, also driving for the Schmidt Peterson squad.

“I have had a lot of fun driving the Lights car,” said Pigot. “When you put your foot down, it really gets going which is nice. It is great to work with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports. The guys have a lot of experience especially with this car and I am definitely learning a lot and will hopefully carry that into next season. The biggest adjustment is getting used to the size of the car and how heavy it is. It is a lot bigger than the Pro Mazda car and its takes a lot more effort to get the car turned and stopped. It is just something you have to get used to. It’s not the first time I have driven the Lights car so nothing really surprising.”

“I have definitely had fun; no doubt about that,” said Kligerman, who was just three-tenths of a second off of Pigot in the final session. “It has been awesome to drive this car. I am actually a bit beat up in a few places. At the same time, I was surprised yesterday at how quickly I got up to speed and was second in the second session. I didn’t get all of it out of the new tires but I felt like all right, you know what, this morning is go time and I was just kind of sloppy. It’s good though that I’m disappointed in my performance because I feel like I am up with the car and up with the team. I know what it takes and I just need to go out there and execute. I am just having fun. It is cool to out and do something completely different you have never done in a lot of ways and start to understand it and see yourself progress. With all the things that they have for data, you can see it, feel it and get better.”

The Pro Mazda field saw several Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship Powered by Mazda drivers turning their first laps including champion Florian Latorre, Austin Cindric and Peter Portante. Neil Alberico (Andretti Autosport), Sonoma race winner Jose Gutierrez (Juncos Racing) and newcomer Patricio “Pato” O’Ward (Team Pelfrey) all shared time at the top of the timesheets with O’Ward unofficially fastest overall with a lap of 1:23.6525.

“The days have been really great,” said O’Ward, 15, who has been racing this year in the French Formula 4 Championship. “Yesterday I was working to get in a groove with the car and know it a little more. I didn’t know the track so the first session was to know the track. The second session, our strategy was to do a race simulation with old tires and then with 15 minutes to go, to put new tires. The thing is a red flag came out so we weren’t able to put on new tires. We ended up fourth. Today we were quickest in the first session because we got the strategy right and were able to put on new tires and that time held. I am very happy with the result. That is what we were hoping for, that was our goal.”

“My two days were firstly to learn the car and then to start to work with the team,” noted Latorre, who was third quickest in the final session and eighth overall. “I only used a new set of tires in the last session to see where I am compared to other drivers. I am still working to learn the car and the team is working to understand what I want on the car also. I think we will have a lot of fun and I am happy.”

Nico Jamin unofficially topped the timesheets in USF2000 testing with defending champions Cape Motorsports with Wayne Taylor posting a lap of 1:26.3304 on Sunday morning. Victor Franzoni (Afterburner Autosport) was second and Jake Eidson (Pabst Racing) third.

“It’s been a very good test,” noted Jamin. “Yesterday, I was second in both sessions. We were working into the night to see how I did and where the time was left on the track. We set up the car a bit differently and I improved myself in a few corners on the track and we were P1 in both sessions today. The team is very good, very friendly. We are having a lot of fun at the same time as we are going fast on the track. It was a good event for me.”

Newcomer Parker Thompson of Red Deer, Alberta, Canada, also turned a few heads, testing with both the Cape team and JDC MotorSports, and ended up fourth quickest.

“This has been an incredible experience,” said Thompson, a protégé of Indianapolis 500 winner Buddy Rice. “It is a huge learning curve. I had to learn the car and the track all at the same time in two one-hour sessions, but both teams – JDC and Cape – have been awesome in helping me out and giving me what I need in the data acquisition in pointing out things in my driving that I can fix and it’s been incredible. I would love to get on the Mazda Road to Indy. I think it would be a great opportunity to show my skill and talent. USF2000 looks great. Hopefully we can find a team and make it happen for next season.”

TIMES: Indy Lights, Pro Mazda, USF2000

New Chip Ganassi driver Marcus Armstrong will team with boyhood idol Scott Dixon

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
Joe Portlock - Formula 1/Formula Motorsport Limited via Getty Images
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Marcus Armstrong was a Scott Dixon fan his entire life, and when he was 8, the aspiring young racer asked his fellow New Zealander to autograph a helmet visor that he hung on his bedroom wall.

Next year, Armstrong will be Dixon’s teammate.

Armstrong was named Friday as the fourth IndyCar driver in the Chip Ganassi Racing lineup and will pilot the No. 11 next season on road and street courses.

A driver for the five oval races on the 17-race schedule will be named later.

The No. 11 is essentially the No. 48 that seven-time NASCAR champion Jimmie Johnson drove the last two seasons, with Chip Ganassi making the change to run four cars numbered in sequential order. Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson drives the No. 8, six-time champion Dixon drives the No. 9, and 2020 IndyCar champion Alex Palou drives the No. 10.

So just who is the second Kiwi in the Ganassi lineup?

A 22-year-old who spent the past three seasons in Formula One feeder series F2, a Ferrari development driver in 2021, and former roommate of Callum Illot and former teammate of Christian Lundgaard – both of whom just completed their rookie IndyCar seasons.

“I’ve always been attracted to the IndyCar championship because it’s one of those championships that’s been really well televised in New Zealand since I was young, mainly because of Scott and his success,” Armstrong told The Associated Press. “As time progressed, as I got closer to F1 and single-seaters, the attraction to IndyCar grew just because of how competitive the championship is – I like to challenge myself and the level of competition in IndyCar is remarkably high.”

Armstrong, from Christchurch, New Zealand, was set to travel from his current home in London to Indianapolis this weekend to meet his new team. He won’t need an introduction to Dixon, the 42-year-old considered the best IndyCar driver of his generation and Armstrong’s unequivocal childhood hero.

Last season, Dixon earned his 53rd career victory to pass Mario Andretti for second on the all-time list. Dixon has driven for Ganassi in all but 23 of his 345 career starts.

“For a long time I’ve been a Scott Dixon fan. I don’t want to make him cringe with our age difference,” Armstrong told the AP.

Despite the two-decade age difference, Armstrong never considered someday racing with Dixon a fantasy.

He convinced his father after winning five national karting championships to allow him to leave New Zealand for Italy at age 14, where he moved by himself to pursue a racing career. Armstrong said as soon as he’d received parental permission, he’d never look back.

Armstrong was in Formula 4 two years after his move to Italy and won that title in his first season. He won four races and four poles in F3 in the 2018 and 2019 seasons, then collected four wins and eight podiums in three seasons of F2.

“Maybe it’s a strength, or maybe it’s a weakness, but I always thought I was capable of doing great in the sport,” Armstrong told the AP. “I think you probably have to succeed in the sport, you need to believe in yourself. I always pictured myself being in IndyCar.

“As Scott’s teammate? I can’t specifically say I saw that. It’s an extraordinary chain of events.”

Armstrong becomes just the latest driver to leave Europe, where F1 is the pinnacle but has only 20 seats each year. Alexander Rossi began the trend in 2016 when the American left F1 and won the Indianapolis 500 as a rookie. He’s been followed by Ericsson, last season’s Indy 500 winner, Romain Grosjean, Illot, Lundgaard, and on Thursday three-time W Series champion and Williams F1 reserve driver Jamie Chadwick was announced as driver for Andretti Autosport in IndyCar’s second-tier development series.

Armstrong said he could have remained in F2 for a fourth season, but he’d been watching IndyCar for so long, and after conversations with Illot and Lundgaard, he decided to make the move to what he believes is the most balanced racing series in the world. He tested for Dale Coyne Racing at Sebring in October.

He doesn’t know if European racing is done for good, just that he wants to be in IndyCar right now.

“I don’t want to think too far into the future, I’m just grateful for this opportunity that is standing right in front of me,” Armstrong said. “I want to perform as well as I can in the near future and just consolidate myself in the fantastic chance that is IndyCar and just do my best.

“I’m not looking at F1 as a landing spot – I am looking at IndyCar, and that’s exactly why I am here.”