Johnny Rutherford joins McLaren Indy entry as team ambassador

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The big names just keep on growing for the McLaren Honda Andretti entry that will field Fernando Alonso in the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

Three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, better known as “Lone Star JR” in his driving days, has joined as the team’s official ambassador, which he’s free to do now as he’s not engaged in official INDYCAR duties as the pace car driver. Rutherford was succeeded by Sarah Fisher in that role starting last year.

Rutherford will then don a McLaren team shirt and kit in his role and will be the team’s “guest of honor.” He was part of the joint IMS/NBCSN live stream last week for Alonso’s first test on the 2.5-mile oval, sharing stories and insight with Mario Andretti, Robin Miller and Kevin Lee.

Rutherford’s three wins at Indianapolis came in 1974, 1976 and 1980 – the first two with McLaren driving a Papaya Orange-liveried McLaren M16D, a feat he repeated in ’76, driving a similarly liveried M16E. In 1980 he was in the famous Chaparral 2K ground-effect car, which was designed by the British engineer John Barnard, who later became McLaren’s pioneering technical director in the early 1980s.

Auto Racing: Indianapolis 500: Johnny Rutherford (3) in action during race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Indianapolis, IN 5/25/1974CREDIT: John G. Zimmerman (Photo by John G. Zimmerman /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images)(Set Number: X18662 )

“The McLaren name still means a lot to me – it has a very special place in my heart, in fact, for obvious reasons,” Rutherford said in a release. “So when I heard that not only was McLaren heading back to Indianapolis – after a near 40-year absence, and with Fernando Alonso behind the wheel, and that they would also be reviving the same, famous orange livery that was made famous by Bruce McLaren himself in the 1960s and ’70s – well, I was blown away. That’s just neat, real neat…

“I’m thrilled and excited about ‘coming home’ to McLaren for the famous month of May, and I want to do everything I can to help make the team’s return to Indy as enjoyable and successful as possible. Make no mistake, this is a fantastic story for IndyCar, for Formula 1 and for motor racing in general, so to be able to help play a small part in it is just fantastic.

“And the fact that McLaren is doing it in partnership with Andretti Autosport is the icing on the cake: the name ‘Andretti’ means a lot to all racing people, and certainly to me. Not only has the team boss, Michael, achieved so much over his long career, but of course I raced his father, the great Mario, wheel to wheel for many years. I have great respect for both of them. I think everyone does.”

McLaren Technology Group Executive Director Zak Brown added, “You can count the number of people who’ve won more Indy 500s than Johnny Rutherford on the fingers of one hand – and that tells you everything about the scale of Lone Star JR’s achievements in this legendary motor race.

“I’ve spoken before about the special family atmosphere that exists at McLaren, and it’s incredible that we’ll be joined at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway throughout the month of May by one of the forefathers of McLaren’s original Indy adventure.

“Furthermore, Johnny is a real Southern gent, and somebody who knows the nature of this particular race and the Speedway like few others in the sport. To have him onboard and alongside us as we take on this ambitious project makes me feel both humbled and excited – he’ll be a fantastic asset to us all as we return the McLaren name to Indy.”

Michael Andretti added a more humorous anecdote to the story.

“I had the honor of racing with Johnny early in my career and always regarded him as one of the legends of our sport,” Andretti said. “We share similarities having both driven with McLaren – I even got the opportunity to witness his acting abilities when we appeared together on an episode of Home Improvement, and can say he’s a better racer than actor!

“I am looking forward to working alongside Johnny as he joins us as ambassador to the McLaren-Honda-Andretti effort.”

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.”