Trainer Angela Cullen returns to racing with fellow Kiwi after 7 seasons with Lewis Hamilton

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — It was a mutual friend who put Marcus Armstrong in touch with the most famous physical trainer in motorsports.

They were both at home in New Zealand, and as the 23-year-old Armstrong prepared for his first full season in IndyCar, he knew he needed to improve his fitness level. That’s how he was introduced to Angela Cullen, a fellow Kiwi who had just taken most of the year off after spending seven seasons working side by side with Formula 1 star Lewis Hamilton.

“I was quite surprised because frankly, after spending several years in F1, you’d think you’d sort of want to not be involved in motorsport and just sort of take a break, but it’s quite the opposite,” Armstrong said. “She’s extremely passionate about the sport and when we started to talk casually, we definitely started to vibe and just sort of we were on the same wavelength.”

Cullen and Hamilton had split in March of last season, and by the winter she had been introduced to Armstrong, launching the next phase of her career in the U.S. The initial call was almost shocking to Armstrong, the Chip Ganassi Racing driver who competed only on street and road courses last year but added ovals for a full schedule this season.

He will make his Indianapolis 500 debut Sunday with Cullen on his timing stand.

“She has all the experience in the world. She’s seen championships won, she’s seen how it’s done by Mercedes and all of that,” Armstrong said, “so having her on board is a source of inspiration and guidance and motivation.”

Cullen, who has so far declined to be interviewed since first showing up at IndyCar’s $1 million All-Star race in California in March, is now living in Indiana with Armstrong and dedicated to keeping him focused.

“We’ve been working together not that long,” he said, “and I don’t even know how I managed races without her because she helps me to first off eliminate the distraction, because there’s so many distractions in this sport. And our whole goal is performance driven. If it’s not delivering performance, then we’re not going to do it.

“So she’s very much a guiding force when it comes to what we do on a daily basis,” Armstrong said. “She’s not exactly a physio, let’s say. She’s more than that. And if it’s not delivering lap time, we’re not going to do it, plain and simple.”

Since she’s started working with Armstrong, he qualified a career-best sixth at Barber earlier this month, finished a season-best fifth on the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and is ranked 11th in the IndyCar standings.

The day after his finish on the Indy road course, Cullen made a long post on Instagram that quoted the late F1 great Niki Lauda. In her own words, she described the consistency required to perform at the highest level and the foundation it requires.

She closed with Lauda’s line: “Winning is one thing, but out of losing I always learned more for the future.”

“I think she’s a healer,” Hamilton told The Associated Press last month. “She’s a positive person. Her purpose is to bring love to everyone that she meets and what she does. She’s passionate about sports. I think she’s really enjoying a different environment but still racing. I think from her time here, she became such a passionate racing fan.

“I think once you catch the bug,” Hamilton continued, “it’s hard to get out of it. Why should she? She belongs. She belongs in the sport. She’s definitely very, very happy right now.”

Cullen immediately went to work bulking Armstrong up, preparing him for the rigors of ovals. Diet wasn’t an issue because both are pescetarian and neither required much adapting to the other. The biggest issue is that Armstrong hears Cullen leave very early for a morning run — she never skips it — and the two then meet in the kitchen for coffee when she returns.

“We’re still finding our feet. We’re still getting that foundation set. But ultimately we want to build a routine and a work ethic that is sustainable to where we can challenge for race wins and championships for years on end,” he said. “To also have the reassurance from her that she’s obviously seen championships won before, that this is the right way to go about it — we’re on a journey.”


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