Hulkenberg’s Porsche drive a great showcase for modern versatility

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A year ago, I noted how Nico Hulkenberg is now seemingly stuck in the F1 midfield for good, with his move from Sauber to Force India.

While he’s continuously been passed over for that elusive top ride in F1, what he will be able to showcase next year is that the modern F1 driver can be a versatile one, with his announcement on Thursday he’ll be racing for Porsche’s LMP1 program at Spa and Le Mans next season in the FIA World Endurance Championship.

Part of the reason drivers such as Mario Andretti and A.J. Foyt are regarded as the all-time legends of motorsports is because of their versatility. The top two IndyCar drivers in any order of all-time, Andretti also is a Formula One World Champion, with Foyt having captured the 24 Hours of Le Mans with Dan Gurney. Both are also Daytona 500 winners.

In modern times, drivers such as Tony Stewart and Juan Pablo Montoya have stood out for their ability to take up residence in disparate forms of open-wheel and stock car racing.

But in F1 the options are few and far between, frequently due to schedule or political conflicts.

That Force India has been gracious enough to allow Hulkenberg the opportunity to race with Porsche at the two most key FIA World Endurance Championship events in 2015 is a smart, positive development that I wish more teams, or championships, would take note of.

It’s a win-win situation really, for all parties. The media exposure of Hulkenberg racing at Le Mans is staggering, and for nearly every mention of him racing for Porsche will also come the mention that he ranks wherever in the F1 points standings with Force India. Force India will get noticed by the sports car media and world by virtue of its driver doing the running.

For Hulkenberg, it’s a chance to sample machinery of the highest technology besides F1 – the hybrid systems involved in LMP1 are world class by any measure. Mark Webber’s move to the WEC this season was arguably one of the biggest international motorsports story lines. In the same respect, Andre Lotterer’s one-off Grand Prix debut for Caterham at Spa was the story of a guy getting the chance to try out F1 after becoming a sports car star and three-time Le Mans winner, even if he preferred his full-time deal after the trial.

And for Hulkenberg, it’s his opportunity to be in win-contending equipment. Porsche has steadily improved over its first season with its 919 Hybrid and should be even better with another offseason to develop into 2015. Hulkenberg wouldn’t have taken the shot if he didn’t think he could make something out of it.

It gives an extra storyline for F1 during three F1 off-weekends, and it raises the WEC and Le Mans’ profile even more by having a current F1 driver in the field.

By contrast, there’s a conflict going on in Australian motorsport where a date clash of the V8 Supercars test day and the Bathurst 12 Hour GT3 race in February is preventing a crossover of stars.

But for “the Hulk,” Force India, F1, Porsche, the WEC and Le Mans, this signing appears to be a win-win all around.

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.”