Daytona kicks off Red Bull GRC’s quartet of doubleheader weekends

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As there are only eight race weekends, but 12 events, on the Red Bull Global Rallycross schedule, there are four weekends that are likely going to be key to this year’s Supercars championship.

Those four are the four doubleheader weekends, an increase of three from 2014, starting this weekend at Daytona Beach (Sunday, 2 p.m. ET, LIVE on NBC).

Whereas last year it was just Los Angeles that featured a Red Bull GRC weekend double, this year doubles occur in Daytona Beach this weekend, Detroit next month, Los Angeles in September and Barbados in October.

All told, that’s eight of the 12 races right there, and they’ll be crucial to not lose too many points at any one weekend.

Missing the setup isn’t so much a problem on doubleheader weekends as avoiding trouble, said SH Rallycross driver Nelson Piquet Jr.

“Setup is not the problem. It’s just don’t get involved in any accidents the first race,” Piquet told MotorSportsTalk at the Red Bull GRC media day in Long Beach. “That destroys your weekend.”

Piquet would know. Finishes of 12th and ninth in Los Angeles last year severely dented his championship hopes, after banking five top-five finishes in the first six races of the season.

“It’s one thing we learned the hard way last year in L.A.,” he said. “It was a tough race, and it ruined our whole weekend.”

Another driver who had a rough go in L.A. last year was extreme sports legend Bucky Lasek, one of Subaru’s drivers in the No. 81 Subaru WRX-STi. He was 11th and fifth.

“I had the mindset in L.A. to keep a clean car, and you can’t control the car,” Lasek told MotorSportsTalk in Long Beach. “It’s uncontrollable. Your fate is not in your own hands in GRC. It’s in the hands of 12-15 cars.

“You have to take the good with bad, bad with good. I had a lot of DNFs and I would have done better in the points. Sometimes it was due to car issues with other people. All of a sudden I’d be in back fighting for sixth.”

Steve Arpin of Chip Ganassi Racing noted another important factor – with no backup cars, there’s no room for error.

“That’s gonna be tough; we don’t have backup cars,” said Arpin, who finished second at the X Games to Scott Speed earlier this month.

“You go in and know you have a whole another show the next day.

“The biggest thing with those is just being smart. We know this is a heavy contact sport. It can turn your season around in a hurry. You can gain a lot, but also lose a lot. Just be smart and consistent throughout the weekend.”

Having been in Red Bull GRC for several years, Volkswagen Andretti Rallycross’ Tanner Foust noted the importance of track time, and how doubleheaders are good for that.

“One of the problems that I think existed with GRC in the past has been limited amount of driving time,” he told MotorSportsTalk at Long Beach. “You want to have fun. Sometimes you go to a weekend and go less than 30 minutes. It’s great for doubleheaders, but it’s tough on teams because there can be tough rebuilds overnight.

“These are the points I think it will increase emphasis on: getting cars set up for the track quickly. Because if you’re successful on track, its double points. If you’re not successful, setup-wise, you cost yourself double pints. You need the robustness in the car. And keep the car clean during a weekend so you don’t overwork your team. I love the doubleheaders and it adds another challenge.”

A year ago, Scott Speed and Rhys Millen split the Los Angeles wins, while Joni Wiman (second and third) and Ken Block (third and second) podiumed in both races.

Wiman and Block finished first and second in the championship.

That’s plenty proof positive that doubleheaders mean more, particularly with the increased number in 2015.

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.”