COTA weekend thoughts and observations: IMSA

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Thoughts and observations from the first half of the sports car doubleheader weekend at Circuit of the Americas, for the Lone Star Le Mans round of the TUDOR United SportsCar Championship. Additional thoughts on the FIA WEC will follow later today.


  • Solid showing for IMSA content. Both the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge and TUDOR United SportsCar Championship races were excellent showcases of driver talent, and tremendously entertaining to boot. The light to slightly heavier rain that fell during Friday’s CTSC event produced a showcase for, ironically, Continental’s dry weather slicks – which still handled supremely well on the damp but not soaked track. Five of the six CTSC podium finishers made it home on slicks; GS winners Fall-Line Motorsports seized the moment on wets as John Edwards hunted down the fellow BMW M3 of Tom Kimber-Smith. In Saturday’s TUDOR race, the action for the overall win was intense and well balanced between the debuting Ligier JS P2 Honda of Alex Brundle and Gustavo Yacaman and the eventual race-winning Chip Ganassi Racing Riley-Ford of Scott Pruett and Memo Rojas. You can say, yes, the DP won, but the P2 car was the class of the field this weekend. It was about as fair a fight as could be had given the respective car disparities, and save for Yacaman getting spun early in the race the Ligier could well have had a debut victory.
  • Rapid response. Kudos must go to IMSA for an immediate yellow flag call and the track safety team for their quick and rapid response following a savage first lap accident in the CTSC race, when Tim Bell’s No. 28 Nissan 370Z had a reported ABS issue that left him without brakes that sent him off course at Turn 12, through the gravel trap and smacked the barriers very hard. Bell was OK, avoided hitting other cars and slid in sideways with the passenger’s side door, making the most of what could be salvaged following an impact reportedly measured at more than 140mph. Said Ryan Eversley, ST winner (with Kyle Gimple), “Before the car came to the stop, they’d already called a full-course yellow, so the workers could get there very quickly. We scanned the radio and as the car was coming to a rest, it was already full-course. That’s a huge testament to IMSA, everybody that’s in Race Control considering it could have been an emergency situation. I don’t think getting there any faster was possible.”
  • Texas Justice. New IMSA Race Director Beaux Barfield wasted no time making his impression felt on the TUDOR Championship in his first race back in sports cars after a three-year sojourn to IndyCar. Barfield handed out four drive-through penalties for contact. In each case, for penalties applied to Cars 90 (P), 910 (GTLM), 54 (PC) and 23 (GTD) (one car from each class), the penalty was issued swiftly and decisively. That’s not to say there wasn’t controversy, but it wasn’t of a Sebring or Daytona-level magnitude. The two moments that did not draw a penalty – contact at the start into Turn 1 between the No. 42 Ligier of Yacaman and Ricky Taylor’s No. 10 Wayne Taylor Racing Corvette, and later contact between the No. 81 GB Autosport Porsche and No. 300 Turner BMW in GTD – were still controversial to those respective teams that felt they’d been “hard done.”
  • Clean and green. In the last 30 minutes, there were several instances of cars off course where the potential for a yellow flag existed. However, Race Control did not pull the trigger on the yellow in this instance, and let the race play out. It was refreshing to see the lead battle climax as Brundle and Joao Barbosa hunted down Pruett, albeit to no avail for either of them.
  • No luck for Team Seattle or GB Autosport in GTD. A dominant drive from Mario Farnbacher and Ian James in the No. 23 Team Seattle/AJR Porsche 911 GT America went begging in the final hour as James contacted Gunnar Jeannette’s No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports PC car at Turn 12 due to a brake issue; the impact punctured James’ radiator. Meanwhile the GB car, driven by Damien Faulkner and Ben Barker, was on pace for at least a podium before the contact with the Turner BMW, and fell to an unrepresentative ninth in GTD.

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

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.”