Cole Pearn off to fast start fitting in with Conor Daly and IndyCar team

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Conor Daly (surprisingly!) didn’t follow Cole Pearn on Twitter until shortly before the announcement of his new lead race engineer for the Indy 500.

But Daly was well aware that Pearn had a social media persona that precedes him — and the reaction to his hire confirmed it.

“I’ve seen Cole retweeted many times,” Daly, who became a Twitch sensation during IndyCar’s iRacing sojourn, said with a chuckle Thursday during a Zoom media availability with Pearn. “Big Internet guy. As an Internet man myself, I have a passion for Internet humor, content (and) creation.

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“I got texts (and messages) from so many people. It’s as if we had hired the alpha of all racing. It’s as if Mario Andretti has come to our team and blessed us with his experience and career, some alpha wizard of engineering. That’s great. It’s going to be a lot of fun to see what happens. I mean, we’re going to get along, I can tell already. That’s the best part.”

The working relationship has begun taking root as Pearn arrived in Indianapolis two days ago to begin work at Ed Carpenter Racing.

Next week, he will be setting up Daly’s No. 47 Dallara-Chevrolet for the Indy 500 – and the Aug. 23 race (1 p.m. ET, NBC) will mark the first time Pearn has worked in the NTT IndyCar Series after becoming one of the most successful crew chiefs of modern era NASCAR.

“Obviously Indy 500 is a huge deal, so definitely a bucket list item for sure,” said Cole Pearn, who guided Martin Truex Jr. to the 2017 championship and 24 victories in NASCAR’s premier series. “To get a chance to do it with a great driver and a great team as well, a team I kind of felt comfortable with, was kind of a perfect opportunity.”

Pearn is comfortable at ECR because of his longtime ties with Pete Craik, ECR’s lead engineer who joined the team last year after working with Pearn and Truex at Furniture Row Racing in NASCAR. When the team was in need because the postponement of Indy precluded its original choice of engineer for Daly, Craik called Pearn.

“We talked about it way back maybe that would be something,” Pearn said. “So they were in a spot where they needed somebody. It was like, Yeah, why not? That’s kind of how it came together. It was pretty simple from that standpoint really. (Craik) called and just said, ‘Would you want to do this?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, sure.’ Then we talked to the higher powers, I guess, went from there.

The Canadian, who abruptly left Joe Gibbs Racing in December to operate a company that owns ski and hiking lodges in British Columbia, has no plan to return full time in racing but has missed the competitive element while watching NASCAR on TV this year (and frequently flashing his acerbic wit on Twitter).

He also likes the culture at ECR, a two-car team with Carpenter and Rinus Veekay that is adding a third entry for Daly at Indy.

“Seems very similar” to Furniture Row Racing, Pearn said. “Obviously the shops are a lot smaller, less people, stuff like that. I think it’s got a lot of that kind of scene going on. This is a huge race for them, they typically do really well here. Being part of that is going to be good.”

Carpenter has three Indy 500 pole positions and finished a career-best second while leading 65 laps in 2018 — catching the eye of Pearn, a longtime IndyCar fan who already had made many contacts in the series. “It’s not like going into something totally foreign,” he said. “You at least know the players, you know what’s going on from that standpoint.”

Ed Carpenter led a race-high 65 laps in a second-place finish in the 2018 Indianapolis 500 (Patrick Smith/Getty Images).

He also has gotten to know the players at ECR. Though the postponement of the Mid-Ohio races this weekend means the Brickyard will be his first on-track immersion with the team, Pearn is getting more time around the team at its shop and also learning to speak the language of IndyCar, which he describes as similar to stock cars but just with different values.

“Seems like a great group already,” he said. “I’m the new guy. Just trying to find my place at this point.”

And as a recent Twitter follower, Daly already can tell it’s a fit.

“A guy like Cole who has had so much success in racing, he knows what the goal is, and that’s to be the best we can be,” Daly said. “It’s just basically going to be an interesting road on how to get there because we’re going to be learning a little bit more each session.”

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.”