Rossi, Kanaan slice, dice en route to sixth, seventh in Iowa

Photo: Tony DiZinno
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NEWTON, Iowa – Alexander Rossi was making his Iowa Speedway debut while Tony Kanaan was becoming one of four drivers to continue his streak of starting all 10 Iowa Verizon IndyCar Series races.

Their two worlds collided around the halfway mark in the Iowa Corn 300, when Rossi ran high coming off Turn 2 and nearly collected Kanaan. Rossi was a lap down while Kanaan was sixth at the time.

Kanaan, on the radio, was less than pleased with the moment at the 0.894-mile bullring.

The drivers of the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda and No. 10 NTT Data Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet ended sixth and seventh, respectively, but after chaotic races to get there.

Rossi made it up to sixth late after getting back on the lead lap, although he’d ran outside the top 10 for most of the day.

Kanaan, meanwhile, was caught out on a yellow flag, lost two laps and finished a lap down.

We spoke to both drivers after the race to get their respective sides of the stories. As you’ll note in the picture, they spoke after the race on their own.

“Yeah, that was my bad, I need to go talk to him, for sure,” Rossi told NBC Sports. “The low line had been fine for me and on that lap, I got down there and I guess the marbles had built up. When I passed him on the inside, the front just took off. I was immediately on the radio, saying sorry. That was definitely 100 percent on me.

“He apologized, I think,” Kanaan told NBC Sports. “On a short track like that, that’s the way it is. I don’t think it was necessary because it wasn’t even for position. At that time, he was a lap down. But I can see what happened, it could have happened to anybody. Obviously, you can’t avoid it. It is what it is. The good side is none of us crashed, so it could have been a lot worse.”

Rossi, who now adds this sixth place to his famous win at the 100th Indianapolis 500 and a hard luck 14th at Phoenix, has noted his increase in comfort level – although he noted racing at the fellow short oval of Phoenix bore no similarities to Iowa. He also led four laps from Laps 61 to 64, running longer on the first stint.

“This is a whole different ballgame. That’s the beauty of this championship,” Rossi said. “Every track is different. I guess what was different for me from Phoenix is I wasn’t scared s***less on Lap 1!”

Kanaan, who led both practices and was unlucky to end only seventh, rued his lost opportunity.

“To get caught in the pits like that, it is what it is. It’s the same for everybody,” Kanaan said. “I like to go racing and then you get caught and are two laps down just because came into the pits on a different strategy, I guess.

“It’s not fair, but all in all, we didn’t have a car to win today. Newgarden was the class of the field, but I think we had a car to finish in the top three, for sure. We battled with (Scott) Dixon and Will (Power) all day, but when we went two laps down, my day was over.”

Unofficially Kanaan is sixth, Rossi seventh in the points standings – so their championship positions are nearly perfect reflections of where they sit overall.

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.”