Bob McMurray: Armstrong on a long, hard road
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As the Castrol Toyota Racing Series heads into round two today at the world’s most southerly circuit, Teretonga Park in Invercargill, it is already clear there are some real stars of the future taking part — none less so than Kiwi Marcus Armstrong.
There is apparently one other race circuit further south in latitude terms, the wonderfully named “Carlos Romero” track in Tolhuin, Argentina, but that track, is not FIA recognised for international events.
Tolhuin’s main claim to fame was as the site of the Top Gear incident when the stars and their film crew were attacked with stones over a provocative car number plate.
The Teretonga circuit is close to the coast, virtually on Oreti Beach, and tends to experience weather extremes.
Since the TRS has been racing at the track, the weekend event has proven to be one of the coldest, wettest, hottest, windiest and driest of the season.
Preparing for every eventuality is the order of the day.
At the season’s first event, last weekend at Ruapuna in Christchurch, 16-year-old local boy Armstrong travelled almost the entire gamut of race driver emotions.
He missed a pole position by just 1/1000th of a second, won a race, benefited from the misfortunes of others in getting promoted from a fifth place to a podium position, went off track unaided, then crashed out of a race by his own hand.
There is not much more you can cram into one race weekend.
Armstrong, like his fellow Kiwi drivers in this year’s TRS season, Brendon Leitch and Taylor Cockerton, is a graduate of the Motor Sport New Zealand Elite Academy and all three have received support from the Kiwi Driver Fund.
Armstrong, however, has also been selected as a driver of the future by the Ferrari Driver Academy, in itself a clear indication that he is seen as a rare talent.
As a trustee of the Elite Academy I saw Armstrong at a relatively early stage in his career.
He was brash, precocious perhaps, even prone to the occasional lapse of judgment and concentration.
The young man who raced at Ruapuna was confident, mature despite his still tender years, patient with the endless requests for interviews and autographs and showed a demeanour I have witnessed in only the very best of Formula 1 drivers.
He had a calmness about him and a clear look in his eyes that conveyed a dedication to his end goal.
He made mistakes in the car and his third race of the weekend was nothing short of a mess for him but he immediately fronted and owned the situation without trying to deflect the blame.
He was quoted after the race, “It’s a junior series, we all make mistakes, that’s what we’re here to do, iron out those mistakes. We shouldn’t have been in the race to be fair. I’d done silly things in the beginning and to get up to eight or nine was a miracle in itself.
“There was a bit of immaturity to be fair. That was completely and utterly my fault. We’ve had an up and down weekend but we’ll keep fighting.”
We can be proud of all three Kiwi drivers in this year’s series.
There are other drivers with far more track experience and more resources to exploit that talent, but our guys are showing they are as competitive as anyone.
The list of drivers who have showed enormous potential in their early years and failed to achieve their goal is extensive.
It will be a long, hard road but there is no doubt that at this time of his career, Marcus Armstrong is a special talent and could well be the next one to try to batter down the door to get to be a Kiwi driver in Formula 1.