As we approach the final race of the Toyota Racing Series this weekend I thought it would be interesting to get some insights from one of the main protagonists, New Zealand racing driver Marcus Armstrong both on his career so far, racing in New Zealand and what it takes to run in the upper echelons of junior racing. Blindingly fast, Marcus has rapidly moved up the junior ranks by displaying a combination of both speed and skill, something that no doubt Ferrari were aware of when they added him to their development academy. Despite being in the midst of a championship battle, Marcus kindly took some time to speak to Motorsport Prospects on his journey in motorsport so far.
Motorsport Prospects: It must be nice racing at home! How hard has it been adapting to racing away from home in Europe?
Marcus Armstrong: At first it was tough to adjust to racing in Europe, because of the amount of rubber that was on the tracks and generally the circuits in general were quite wide a flowing. Here in NZ we have smaller technical tracks so that was a process. Now it seems normal to be over on those tracks and in that environment & coming back here for TRS always takes some readjustments.
MP: New Zealand has a rich motor racing history but is relatively small. How did you manage to put together sponsorship to enable you to race abroad? Any advice for other young drivers on how to approach getting and retaining sponsorship?
MA: Firstly I’m very lucky to be in the Ferrari Driver Academy. This makes getting sponsors easier, plus they like to invest in their young drivers. To get sponsors is a difficult thing in Motorsport so knowing the right people has been the biggest thing.
MP: You have raced in a number of series since you graduated from karts. What are your impressions of each series and how the car in each contributed to your development as a driver:
- Formula Renault 2.0:
- MA: Formula Renault was very good for my development. I was with R-ace which is arguable the best team in that category. Although I only did 2 race weekends it was enough to get a good understanding and learn some fundamentals like tyre management, warm up procedures and setting up the car around my style. They taught me a lot heading into 2017.
- Formula 4
- MA: A less enjoyable car to drive because there is less downforce and an open differential. This was a very important year. It was my first with Prema and Ferrari and I was keen to show my talent. It took a lot of hard work but eventually we won the Italian championship and just missed out on the ADAC championship by a small margin which hurts still! I learnt how to deal with high competition and performing under pressure.
- FIA Formula 3
- MA: An amazing car to drive. The championship level is very high. I needed to adjust myself a lot from F4 to be at a high level in this car, since there is so much downforce and grip. I led the first half of the season only to miss some performance on the last few races which cost us the championship. I loved racing in F3, the car was incredible and quali was made up of tiny margins.
MP: In the 2018 edition of the Toyota Racing Series you were in a great position to win the championship but for a technical glitch off the start in the last race that caused your car to go into safe mode. How as a driver did you deal with that during the race and how have you used that experience to learn from it and apply it to your career?
MA: It was a painful loss since we led basically from start to finish. I learnt that we needed to be more aggressive in the situations when we could take more points and ultimately that loss made me very determined coming into my F3 season.
MP: How important is the driver-engineer relationship?
MA: Very important. The engineer is one guy in team that fully wants you to win so we need to be on the same page and help each other. His job is to maximize the set-up and mine is maximize the driving, together we help each other do that.
MP: You are part of the Ferrari Driver Development program. How did that come about and how has it helped your career?
MA: I was selected directly from 2016 when I was racing KZ in Tony Kart. It has been an honour to work with such fantastic people and the experience they have is something special. I try to learn every time I’m In the factory or simulator and I’m thankful they give me the time to develop.
MP: What advice would you give young drivers coming out of karts intending to pursue a career in cars?
MA: To be patient. My first few tests in cars I struggled in performance and then suddenly I was a reference and leading the team. I also had the right people helping me so they pushed me to have the right techniques and improve quickly.
MP: How important is conditioning, both physical and mental in your success so far?
MA: I train a lot in the gym because it’s an area where you can clearly make a difference on track. In F3 the race distances are quite difficult to do at 100% so having the strength and not strain myself too much is something that I found I could take advantage of. In the FDA we have mental training sessions 2 times per week, mainly to keep sharp and it also contains a few competitions within the drivers such as reaction times.
MP: What are your plans for 2019 and beyond? Short, medium- and long-term goals?
MA: 2019 I will be in International F3 with Prema. I look forward to racing on F1 weekends and as it’s my 2nd year of F3 I have high targets. My long term goal is to race in F1, I will push hard to bring the results in 2019 to prove that I am worthy of a seat!
You can catch the final round of the Toyota Racing Series this weekend (February 9-10) streaming on their YouTube channel. It is bound to be a cracker!
A big thank you to Marcus for taking the time out to speak to me and for Mark Baker making this happen.
UPDATE! Marcus has signed with the legendary All Road Management team run by Nicholas Todt.