Once he completes his first Toyota Racing Series, Christchurch motor racer Marcus Armstrong heads to a new home away from home, the fabled Ferrari headquarters in Maranello, Italy.
The 16-year-old, who opens his TRS debut in familiar surroundings at the Mike Pero Motorsport Park this weekend, received the ideal Christmas gift last month – a placement at the Ferrari Driver Academy.
Armstrong was among five young drivers evaluated at the Fiorano Circuit in November and he learned on Christmas Eve that he and Enzo Fittipaldi has been selected to join the programme in 2017.
The academy was established in 2009 as Ferrari’s elite driver programme and graduates to F1 include Sergio Perez and Jules Bianchi.
Despite the scope of that opportunity, Armstrong was as calm and calculated as he proved behind the wheel of a KZ Championship go-kart for the last two years.
“It’s pretty massive for me” was about as animated as Armstrong appeared despite his career potentially clicking into overdrive.
“I’ll work with all their trainers [physical and psychological] and the simulators,” he explained, after a practice session with his FT50 ahead of Sunday’s feature race for the Lady Wigram Trophy.
Armstrong will also race to a yet-to-be-confirmed schedule while based in Italy, a new departure for a teen who is accustomed to moving in a different direction.
While kart racers in New Zealand often graduate to Formula Ford, Armstrong had the belief – and backing – to continue karting in Europe with Oxford-based Tony Kart.
“I wanted to make footsteps of my own almost and do something completely different and in my opinion it’s kind of paid off,” he said, detailing his learning experience with Italian Marco Ardigo.
“He’s in his 30s and has multiple world championships to his name. He’s so professional, you have a look at him and then learn, as opposed to competing against drivers my own age.”
Armstrong is pitted against his generation in the five-round series, including 18-year-old Pedro Piquet, son of three-time F1 world champion Nelson Piquet.
Of course Fittipaldi is another famous name in F1, the 15-year-old is the grandson of another legendary Brazilian driver, two-time F1 world champion Emerson Fittipaldi.
Armstrong was unfazed about competing against a Piquet and then testing alongside a Fittipaldi in quick succession.
“There will be more pressure on Enzo [he is also named after Ferrari’s founder] to be honest. Him having the name, people will look.”
Armstrong will also attract plenty of attention this weekend as he continues his transition to single-seater racing, a change he expects to go relatively smoothly.
“I’ve driven a British F3 car that’s reasonably similar to this [FT50].”
He also has experience in Formula Renault when racing at Nurburgring and Estoril and 12 months ago he guided a TR86 around his home track.
“It’s not too difficult, karts are the hardest things I’ve driven. It’s underrated to be fair. You’ve really got to see it to believe it.”
Armstrong started karting when he was eight years-old though his connection to motorsport goes further back.
“My father [Rick] used to race Porsches. I used to stand over on that bank over there and scream at them when I was four years-old. Now he’s probably going to be doing the same this weekend.”