Ryan Hunter-Reay tops IndyCar Mid-Ohio practice; Pato O’Ward spins

IndyCar practice Mid-Ohio
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Ryan Hunter-Reay paced practice Saturday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course as the NTT IndyCar Series hit the road course for the first time on its doubleheader race weekend.

The No. 28 Dallara-Honda driver turned a lap of 1 minute, 6.33 seconds, putting him just ahead of Will Power (1:06.395). Alexander Rossi, Hunter-Reay’s Andretti Autosport teammate, was third quickets at 1:06.430.

Points leader Scott Dixon, who won at Mid-Ohio last year, was fourth fastest, followed by Santino Ferrucci.

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Josef Newgarden, Alex Palou, Colton Herta, Conor Daly and Marco Andretti rounded out the top 10 as Andretti placed four of its cars in the top half of the 23-car field.

There were two significant incidents during the session involving championship contenders.

Dixon went off course for a half-spin 25 minutes into the session. The Chip Ganassi Racing driver, who was second fastest at the time, avoided any damage to his No. 9 Dallara-Honda, and the five-time series champion rebounded to get back on track and run top-five speeds near the end of the session.

Pato O’Ward, who is third in the standings after consecutive podiums two weeks ago at Gateway, wasn’t so lucky 35 minutes into the session.

The Arrow McLaren SP driver lost control of his No. 5 Dallara-Chevrolet in Turn 12 and backed into the tire barrier, making contact with the left rear and left front. The session went under a red flag for 12 minutes.

O’Ward was unhurt but was left with only 12 laps in the session (all the other drivers made at least 23 laps). He thought his team could fix the car in time for qualifying at 2 p.m.

“It just seems like the car maybe bottomed out, and I lost the rear,” O’Ward told NBC Sports Gold pit reporter Kelli Stavast. “Obviously, not the start we wanted. Wanted to get more laps in here, and I truly don’t think I was pushing that hard to get in a situation like that. We’ll fix it back up, get ready for qualifying. We’ll be going in a little blindsided, but there’s not much more we can than try to do the best we can.

“It doesn’t seem like the damage is too bad. Track position is absolutely key, so we’re in a little stress point now, but we’ll be fine. We’ll just have to tackle it and see what we can come up with later today.”

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.”