WSR: Rowland clinches Formula Renault 3.5 title at Le Mans

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Oliver Rowland has been crowned the 2015 Formula Renault 3.5 champion with one round to spare after finishing eighth in Sunday’s second race at the Circuit de la Sarthe in Le Mans, France.

Formula Renault 3.5 is the flagship series on the World Series by Renault package, and has produced a number of Formula 1 drivers including Sebastian Vettel, Daniel Ricciardo, Kevin Magnussen and Carlos Sainz Jr.

Sainz won last year’s championship before moving up to F1 with Toro Rosso, and Rowland will now be looking to follow in his footsteps after wrapping up the 2015 title on Sunday.

The Briton came down with an illness in the morning, meaning that he could only qualify 14th. He managed to fight his way up the order to finish eighth, giving him the points he needed to wrap up the championship ahead of rival Matthieu Vaxiviere.

“I didn’t feel well this morning and qualifying lap wasn’t very good,” Rowland explained. “I got a good start and with the team, we did what we had to do.

“I am happy to have won this title and I can’t thank Fortec Motorsports and the Racing Steps Foundation enough for all their help. Congratulations also to Matthieu. He pushed me all along the season and was always on my heels!”

Vaxiviere had to win the race on Sunday to stand any chance of postponing Rowland’s celebrations until the season finale, but could only finish second behind Egor Orudzhev despite fighting back from a poor start.

“I got a good start, but I had a problem changing gears and I lost a lot,” Vaxiviere explained. “I tried to overtake Nyck [de Vries] to no avail and the radio wasn’t working to tell me when to stop. It was quite a horrible situation. The team did a good job, but Egor was perfect today.

“I am thrilled to be on the podium at my home race and I want to sincerely congratulate Oliver for winning the championship.”

With Fortec also winning the teams’ championship at Le Mans, next month’s finale in Jerez, Spain will offer nothing more than a final two race victories to the hungry field of young racers.

One win would see Rowland set a new record for wins in a Formula Renault 3.5 season, but with the title in his pocket, attention will undoubtedly have already turned to moving up the ladder in 2016.

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.”