After winning IndyCar Rookie of the Year honours on a part-time schedule, Marcus Armstrong will drive ovals for the first time in his career in 2024 - starting at the Indy 500 in May. He speaks with Christopher Reive about the challenges that await.
Marcus Armstrong is entering new territory.
In his first season as part of the IndyCar series, Armstrong claimed the Rookie of the Year title despite only running a part-time programme; the 23-year-old Kiwi not driving in the oval races in his maiden campaign.
That will change this year, with Chip Ganassi Racing backing him to run the full schedule in 2024.
Oval racing is a challenge Armstrong has looked forward to since confirming his place on the IndyCar grid, and he’ll get his first taste of it at one of the world’s most famous races as the Indy 500 in May is the first oval race on the 2024 schedule.
“I’m really jumping in at the deep end, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he told the Herald.
That will see three Kiwi drivers line up at the banner event, with Chip Ganassi teammate Scott Dixon and Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin.
Armstrong has done some testing on oval circuits, and while there were things he could take away from those sessions, he admitted driving laps in testing and driving in a race would be two very different things.
Marcus Armstrong drove the No 11 for Chip Ganassi Racing on road and street circuits in 2023, winning IndyCar Rookie of the Year. Photo / Getty Images
However, he has had the benefit of being able to pick the brain of Dixon, who has had plenty of success on oval tracks and is a past Indy500 winner.
“Ovals are something he’s been one of the best at for a lot of years, so it’s always nice to have him as a reference, but I’m going to have to experience it myself and find out what it feels like,” Armstrong said. “You can only prepare so much, you actually need to go out there and feel it and understand what to do differently.
“The speed is not something that has ever scared me, frankly, but it’s the way the car feels that is quite different than usual – all the tyres being on the same camber angle more or less, the weight and cross-weight, the suspension stiffness – it’s all very asymmetric so that feels quite different to what I’m used to on a street circuit or a road course. Getting used to that and racing – it’s like the Tour de France on steroids, isn’t it? Just constantly slipstreaming and being strategic.”
Armstrong was hopeful of getting to compete in some of the oval races in the second half of the 2023 season, however, he instead was tasked with focusing on the street and road circuits, allowing him to get to grips with the new setting after spending his career in Europe.
Running the programme he did, Armstrong didn’t exactly set out with a goal of winning the Rookie of the Year title, but his consistency on the track saw him fly to the top of the rookie rankings despite running a significantly shorter schedule.
“I want to go out there and win races, I’m not trying to sit back a just take points to win the rookie championship. It’s nice, you can only win it once so it’s nice to get it, but at the beginning of the season it wasn’t really my primary target,” he said.
“Also, we were doing five less races than the other rookies considering we weren’t doing the ovals. Under normal circumstances, you wouldn’t be able to win it with five less races, but considering we did quite a decent job gathering points and having quite consistent results, in the end it fell our way so for that I’m very grateful to the team because they gave me a car to be able to do it with our limited races.”
Christopher Reive joined the Herald sports team in 2017, bringing the same versatility to his coverage as he does to his sports viewing habits.
Take your Radio, Podcasts and Music with you