Gastaldi thanks Renault as 20 year partnership with Enstone enters its final race

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Lotus deputy team principal Federico Gastaldi has sent his heartfelt thanks to Renault as the French marque’s partnership with the Enstone F1 operation prepares for its final race in Abu Dhabi next weekend.

Renault first joined forces with the Enstone-based team in 1995, when it was then known as Benetton. That year, Michael Schumacher claimed his second title, marking a good start for the partnership.

In 2001, Benetton was bought out by Renault and turned into a works team for 2002, yielding world championships in 2005 and 2006 with Fernando Alonso. Renault took a step back from the operation in 2009 before the team was eventually rebranded as “Lotus F1 Team” for 2012.

Last month, Lotus announced that it would be switching for Mercedes power units for 2015, bringing the 20 season relationship with Renault to an end in Abu Dhabi.

“I think that everyone associated with the team will recall the great days of 1995 and then again in 2005 and 2006 when the titles were won with Michael and Fernando,” Gastaldi said. “Renault Sport has been valued partners and we shared an intricate and evolving partnership. All good things come to an end, as they say, and for 2015 we go our separate ways.

“As with any long-term partnership there were good and bad times. We have many friends at Renault Sport for we genuinely thank them for their expertise during a very long association.”

After finishing fourth in the constructors’ championship last season, 2014 has seen Lotus come back down to earth with a bump, scoring just ten points and failing to finish any higher than eighth in a race. In the off-season, Gastaldi is anticipating a lot of work to ensure that there is no repeat of this in 2015.

“We will leave no stone unturned going in to 2015,” he said. “The pain of 2014 will only inspire us to make sure it does not happen again. For the race teams there will of course be some time to refresh, but straight away we will all be back at the factory and pushing the limit for 2015.

“There will be a lot of work packaging the new Mercedes AMG High Performance Powertrain unit as well as the other production, build and then testing and development phases. It will be an exciting time and a genuine fresh page in the history of the team.”

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

Marcus Armstrong Scott Dixon
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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.”