Massa: “There is always a big expectation to perform in front of your home crowd”

AP
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After Alexander Rossi (United States) and Sergio Perez (Mexico) have been the home darlings the last two Grands Prix in the Americas, its the dual Felipe’s turn this week in Brazil.

Sauber’s Felipe Nasr will make his maiden start at Interlagos this week, but the unquestioned crowd favorite will be Williams’ Felipe Massa, who will make his 12th start at the Autodromo Carlos Pace.

The track and Massa will always be linked in one of F1’s truly iconic moments, when he won the 2008 race and came mere seconds from securing the World Championship. Of course Lewis Hamilton’s pass of Timo Glock for fifth put that dream to rest, but Massa’s incredible sportsmanship and heroism in defeat earned him praise that exists to this day.

That race marked his most recent win in the sport and while he’s still a longshot to capture another Grand Prix win, which would be the 12th of his career, he’s still keen to impress on home soil.

“Your home Grand Prix is always the most important race for a driver,” Massa said in Williams’ pre-race advance.

“For me to race at home where I started my career – first on the other side of the wall at the kart track, then onto the race track – there is always a big expectation to perform in front of your home crowd.

“I love the track, it’s one of the best tracks for me and I’ve always had good results there. I’m really looking forward to hopefully achieving another amazing result this year.”

Massa’s podium last year was his fifth at the track. He had an incredible three-year run from 2006 to 2008 in his home race, and also finished third in 2012.

“Last year we managed to finish on the podium. It was a race with so many things happening – I had a five-second penalty and even stopped in the wrong garage – but we still managed to have an amazing race so it’s important to look back on what we did last year to try to repeat it and have a very strong weekend once again,” he said.

“The passion from the fans is amazing. The emotion they have and how close they are to me as a driver, it’s really an amazing feeling to race at home. The experience is difficult to explain.”

Massa said over the weekend if he can’t find a competitive home beyond 2016, when his contract with Williams expires, he’ll end his F1 career.

Massa’s record at Brazil

  • 2002: Sauber-Petronas, Started 12th, Finished 16th, DNF (collision)
  • 2004: Sauber-Petronas, Started 4th, Finished 8th
  • 2005: Sauber-Petronas, Started 8th, Finished 11th
  • 2006: Ferrari, Pole, Won
  • 2007: Ferrari, Pole, Finished 2nd
  • 2008: Ferrari, Pole, Won
  • 2010: Ferrari, Started 9th, Finished 15th
  • 2011: Ferrari, Started 7th, Finished 5th
  • 2012: Ferrari, Started 5th, Finished 3rd
  • 2013: Ferrari, Started 9th, Finished 7th
  • 2014: Williams-Mercedes, Started 3rd, Finished 3rd

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
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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.”