Excerpt, quick take on Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon

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The month of May was a special one for Bryan Herta this year – his driver, Alexander Rossi captured the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil in the No. 98 NAPA Auto Parts/Curb Honda for Andretti-Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian.

The win came five years to the day, of course, after Herta’s then-driver Dan Wheldon won the 100th anniversary running of the race in 2011.

The poignancy is obvious.

This was a special month for Herta, as well as Wheldon’s other teammates from his time at Andretti Green Racing, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan and his then primary teammate at Target Chip Ganassi Racing, Scott Dixon, all gathered at Honda hospitality at IMS to celebrate the life of Wheldon as the new book Lionheart: Remembering Dan Wheldon, authored by Jeff Olson and Andy Hallbery, was launched at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

WheldonBook

The book is a different bio reflection than most – rather than Olson and Hallbery telling the story themselves, they left it to Wheldon’s closest friends, teammates and confidantes to pass on the best parts of Wheldon’s life.

In the 200-plus pages, more than 50 individuals have come together to form a mix of laughs, tears and memories that are unlike most books you’ll read.

Here’s a quick excerpt from Herta’s chapter, to set the scene for his six pages:

“The moment I’ve met people for the first time isn’t something I usually remember, but I remember everything about the first time I met Dan Wheldon. It was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in 2003, and it was in the Andretti Green Racing garages. Dan had been brought in as the team’s most recent driver. He was the new kid on the team. Honda had just moved from Champ Car to the Indy Racing League, and they needed someone to pound out tons of test miles all winter long.

“I don’t think our teammates, Dario Franchitti and Tony Kanaan, had a lot of interest in doing that, so Dan came in and did that for the team. He arrived that season and was expected to just race sparingly while testing. But Dario’s dubious motorcycling skills led him to crash his bike in Scotland after the second race of the season, so Michael Andretti called me and said, “Hey we’re going to need somebody to sub for Dario.”

“At the time, it was only supposed to have been a couple of races. Michael did a deal for Robby Gordon to drive Dario’s car in the Indianapolis 500, and they asked me to come in and do some testing during the month of May at other tracks. I flew into Indy and came to the garages. I knew Tony and Robby very well, but I didn’t know Dan, so we had to be introduced.

“Here was this kid who was just full of bravado. He was confident in himself and what he was doing. He made an immediate impression on me. You’ll hear other people say this: There was something about Dan. When you talked to him or interacted with him, he made a real connection with you. It didn’t matter who you were. If you were a fan who met him for 20 seconds or if you were one of his good friends, he made a connection with you.

“It was real and genuine. He could make you feel like you had just made a real connection with a person. That was my initial experience with him. He was very animated and sure of himself, but he was also very real.”

When you look at the names who have contributed here: 2009 World Champion Jenson Button comes up along with past F1 drivers Rubens Barrichello and Mark Webber, as do the band of teammates, in Franchitti, Andretti, Kanaan and Herta, then his IndyCar rivals, Helio Castroneves, Sam Hornish Jr., even Danica Patrick, then NASCAR stars such as Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr., plus many, many others, you see the great lengths Olson and Hallbery went to to put this together.

As has been said elsewhere, Wheldon wouldn’t have just wanted a book and appreciated it – but he’d want it to be oh so perfect, oh so right.

Lionheart is that, and then some.

More information on the book and the book itself is available here for purchase via lionheartbook.com, with additional information available on the book’s Facebook page.

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.”