Speed stars for second in Miami in surreal, different open-wheel experience

1 Comment

MIAMI – Starting 10th on the grid for the Miami ePrix wasn’t what Scott Speed had in mind for his FIA Formula E Championship debut, especially considering his Andretti Autosport teammate Jean-Eric Vergne scored his second pole in three starts since joining the team in Uruguay.

However, few expected the performance the American delivered in the 39-lap race, in what was his first major open-wheel race appearance since his Formula 1 career ended in mid-2007.

Speed stayed in the top-10 in the early stages of the race and then moved forward after the round of pit stops, which is when his race came alive.

He emerged in the top five, mirroring the strategy by eventual race winner Nicolas Prost by pitting on Lap 20.

Once Speed passed Vergne for fourth place at Turn 5 on Lap 24, the mission to win the race truly began in earnest.

“In qualifying we got held up on both of our flying laps,” Speed said in the post-race press conference. “We had much more speed than 10th place. So we knew we’d be coming forward. I started out on his strategy, which was to go one lap longer than everybody and it worked quite well.”

But as Speed closed on the podium runners, and eventually got past Daniel Abt as the German was forced to save energy, Speed ran into a different issue rather than conserving energy himself.

“The problem we ended up having at the end was not battery – I had plenty of energy left – but we kept overheating,” Speed said. “In any case, (Prost) played his strategy very good too.

“For the last two laps we were both at 100 percent power and I don’t think anyone had that same power. For both of us, going into corners at full speed when you don’t do that the whole race, was quite tricky. We had a lot of close calls, but it made the racing really nice.”

Speed came up just short of Prost at the finish – just 0.433 of a second back – but had thoroughly impressed in his series debut.

He reiterated what he said earlier this weekend that while he isn’t yet confirmed to any more Formula E races, he’ll happily go wherever needed for Andretti Autosport opportunities.

He also hailed team principal Michael Andretti, who served as his race strategist on his No. 28 chassis.

“Having a guy like Michael Andretti on the radio calling the race, someone with experience, who could talk to me like that, was fantastic,” Speed said. “It’s the first time he’s done that and we’ll have him do that some more. With what we had, we really maximized our possibilities.”

Speed’s biggest adjustment, more than driving or conserving energy, was actually getting used to the noise reduction of the all-electric Spark-Renault SRT_01 E chassis.

“The biggest difference is engine noise – there is none!” Speed said. “Really you hear things you never hear before. This being my first race, I at the start of the race heard this big music and big sound, and I heard it like it was in my headphones.

“It’s unbelievable how much you can hear. You hear the crowd screaming at the start of the race. There’s a bunch of tire noise, tire squealing; when people crash, you hear it behind you, you can hear it very clearly. By far the biggest difference is the audio.”

Speed made plenty of noise in his own way this afternoon in what was one of his best career drives.

As for Vergne, the polesitter who led the first 18 laps, his race was compromised with similar overheating issues in the final portion of the race. The Frenchman retired with two laps to go, and ended an unrepresentative 18th.

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.”