RLL’s Lundgaard To Start On Pole At Indy on Saturday

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 13 2023

Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard will start P1 on the Indy road course on Saturday. (Photo courtesy of INDYCAR)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer

First bragging rights of INDYCAR’s marathon Month of May at Indianapolis Motor Speedway belong to a 21-year-old driver from Hedensted, Denmark.

Christian Lundgaard celebrated a much-needed resurgence for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing on Friday by claiming his first career NTT P1 Award during qualifying for this afternoon’s GMR Grand Prix on the IMS Road-Course.

Lundgaard turned a hot lap of 1-minute, 9.3321-seconds/126.643 mph around the 2.439-mile/14-turn layout to become the first Danish driver to win an NTT IndyCar Series pole. Lundgaard edged Felix Rosenqvist by 27-ten-thousandths of a second, as the Swede will start second after a lap of 1:09.3348/126.638 mph in the No. 6 McLaren Chevrolet. The Scandanvian road-racing specialists combined to record the closest gap between the top two qualifiers in the series’ Firestone Fast Six format.

“The No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda has been fast all day,” Lundgaard said. “I was hoping for this but I wasn’t quite expecting it. I can finally call this (IMS) home, I think. It feels amazing. Waking up this morning, I knew we were going to have a chance to get into the Fast Six because we’ve done that pretty much every time we’ve been here and I hoped it was going to happen. And now I can sit here and it’s a reality, which is pretty cool. Honestly, right now it feels awesome getting my first NTT P1 Award.”

Lundgaard’s previous career-best qualifying performance was third as a rookie last season on the Streets of Nashville. His best qualifying spot through the first four races of the 2023 season was sixth in late April on the Barber Motorsports Park natural terrain layout in Birmingham, Ala.

Lundgaard earned the first pole for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing since two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato of Japan took P1 in August 2020 on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval in Madison, Ill. Lundgaard led all three RLLR drivers into the top eight, as Englishman Jack Harvey will start fourth (1:09.4220/126.479 mph) in the No. 30 Honda and Graham Rahal eighth (1:09.4711/126.389 mph) in the No. 15 Honda.

Friday’s results marked a significant rebound for the team led by 1986 Indy 500 champion Bobby Rahal, as Lundgaard entered this race 12th, Rahal 16th and Harvey 23rd in the point standings. The team’s best finish this season has been sixth _ by Lundgaard last month at BMP and by Rahal in March in the season-opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.

“Now we have a shot at it (victory),” Lundgaard said. “We’re leading the field to green, so that’s where we want to be. So, we’ve just got to stay there for the rest of the race.

“Every time we come here to IMS, at least this way (road-course), we’ve been quick. So, coming into this year, I was confident. The last time I drove on this track (last July), I finished second. I was second in both practice sessions this morning, so I wanted to up it one, and I did.”

While an FIA Formula 2 driver, a 20-year-old Lundgaard made his INDYCAR debut with RLLR at the Grand Prix at IMS on Aug. 14, 2021. Lundgaard tested an Indy-car for the first time with the team at BMP on July 26 and impressed by qualifying fourth for the race. He went on to finish 12th while battling food poisoning.

Last May Lundgaard finished ninth in the INDYCAR Grand Prix at IMS and then earned his first series podium with a second-place run in the July event after starting sixth. In that race, Lundgaard passed Rosenqvist for third on Lap 9 before his first pit stop on Lap 14. Lundgaard held third through the majority of the race and claimed second on Lap 42 of 85 when previous leader Colton Herta slowed on course. During the late stages Lundgaard pressured eventual winner Alexander Rossi, then of Andretti Autosport, but took the checkered flag 3.5-seconds behind for his first series podium and career-best finish of second.

“My podium here last year, it was a big relief for me and the team,” Lundgaard said. “I knew my ability to be able to finish on the podium. I know what I’m capable of. But to deliver it to the team is what meant the most to me, and this, too. Everyone works so hard. We built a new facility. It hasn’t paid off until now, so we’re going to keep digging deep.

“Honestly, I didn’t really think that lap was good enough, but I was a little annoyed that Jack was faster than me on the first run because that used to be my number and I saw it on top, so I was like, ‘Yes! No, wait a minute, that’s not me anymore.’ That just shows what it means to the team, as well, having two cars in there. I would have liked to share the front row with him, though, but we’ll save that for another time.”

The GMR Grand Prix will mark the 13th series race on the famed facility’s road-course. The team’s best finish on the layout is second in 2015 and July 4, 2020 by Rahal and second in Race 2 in 2022 by Lundgaard. The team’s previous best start was fourth in 2020 by Rahal until Friday’s pole by Lundgaard.

Live coverage of the 85-lap/207.3-mile race is scheduled to start at 3:30 p.m. (EDT) Saturday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. The 107th running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge _ “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing” _ is booked for Sunday, May 28.

Rosenqvist, meanwhile, fell just short of earning his second pole of the season and first this year on a road-course. But tight competition was the story of the day, as the margin of 0.2979-seconds among the top six was the fourth-smallest in the history of the Firestone Fast Six format.

“It just came down to nailing a lap at the end,” Rosenqvist said. “I made a mistake, just a little wobble there. I just went for it _ all or nothing. Big congrats to Christian. Scandinavian front row _ that’s always cool.

We’ve been quick since rolling off the truck. But it’s always hard getting a lap in, and you know, traffic and things happening. It’s very tight and one-tenth wrong, you’re out. It’s always hard to put it together here and it’s so tight. We came together when it mattered in the end. That was our quickest run of the day. I did a little mistake on the final lap. I’m kind of beating myself up about it a little bit, but hey, we can’t be perfect. That was all I had for that lap.”

Spaniard Alex Palou, the 2021 series champion, will start third after a best lap of 1:09.3780/126.559 mph in the No. 10 fielded by Chip Ganassi Racing, with Harvey next to him in Row 2.

“A bit disappointed that we didn’t get the pole,” Palou said. “ We were looking strong all day _ P3 in Practice 1 and then P1 in Practice 2. We just missed it by a bit but it’s good to be disappointed when you’re starting P3. The car feels great, just need to find a little more during the warm-up (Saturday) and try to get our first win of the season.”

Native Mexican O’Ward qualified fifth at 1:09.5422/126.260 mph in the No. 5 McLaren Chevrolet. Kyle Kirkwood, winner on the Streets of Long Beach, completed the Firestone Fast Six at 1:09.6292/126.102 mph in the No. 27  Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport.

Championship leader/reigning Indy 500 champion Marcus Ericsson of Sweden will start seventh after just missing the Firestone Fast Six in Round 2 with his lap of 1:09.4419/126.442 mph in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Qualifying also produced puzzling results for several of the series’ usual suspects. That list includes two-time series champion Josef Newgarden of Team Penske (starting 13th); 2022 GMR Grand Prix winner Herta of Andretti Autosport with Curb/Agajanian (starting 14th); 2023 Barber winner Scott McLaughlin of New Zealand and Team Penske (starting 16th) and Andretti Autosport’s top championship contender to-date, Frenchman Romain Grosjean (starting 18th). All were eliminated during the first round of time trials.

Herta is one-year removed from his victory in last May’s storm-plagued IMS event that saw a mixture of rain and wrecks prompt INDYCAR officials to invoke a two-hour time-limit over the originally scheduled 85-lapper.

Newgarden attributed his mid-pack starting position in today’s 27-car field to a case of bad timing. “I had two laps of fuel, which is pretty much what everyone’s going to do,” said Newgarden, driver of the No. 2 Snap-On Team Penske Chevrolet. “I did an OK first lap. I was going for it. But you know at this point you can’t go through there with the yellow (from Benjamin Pedersen’s spin) and go quicker otherwise I’m was going to get a penalty so I backed off a little bit there.

“Then I decided to do it because I thought that I could really go quicker on the whole lap. But man, I lost so much at the start of it that seemed irrelevant at that point. So it was unfortunate because that was the lap to really put it together. I’m not going to go back and like be mad at anybody or even myself, it’s just bad timing.”

Australian Will Power, the two-time/reigning series champion from Team Penske, made it through to the second round but was eliminated in that session. He will start 12th in the No. 12 Team Penske Chevrolet.

Matteo Nannini arrived at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this week needing a morale boost after a mediocre start to his 2023 INDY NXT season.

Consider the rookie “boosted.” Nannini earned his series pole Friday for today’s INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course. Nannini’s top lap was 1-minute, 15.3194-seconds/116.576 mph during an eight-minute session on the 2.439-mile/14-turn layout.

The Italian’s previous best start was ninth in the season-opener in March on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla. It also was the first INDY NXT by Firestone pole for Juncos Hollinger Racing since current NTT IndyCar Series regular Rinus VeeKay of Ed Carpenter Racing swept both poles for the season-ending doubleheader in September 2019 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in California.

Nannini had finished 15th in each of the first two races of the 2023 season in his No. 76 Juncos Hollinger Racing entry. “We really needed the result as a team,” Nannini said. “We didn’t start the championship in the best way possible. So, definitely starting in Indy with P1 is really satisfying. I’m really happy for the team, really happy for myself and the group that is supporting me.”

Live coverage of the 35-lap/55-minute race is scheduled to start at 1 p.m. (EDT) Saturday on Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network.

“In this series, qualifying is important,” Nannini said. “When you start in the middle of the pack, the possibility to have a crash is much higher. Now we make sure that we can finish the job.”

Led by Nannini, the 18-car field includes nine rookies. 

Hunter McElrea will join Nannini on the front row after qualifying second at 1:15.4467/116.379 mph in the No. 27 Smart Motors car fielded by Andretti Autosport. Rookie Louis Foster, also of Andretti Autosport, will start third in the No. 26 Copart/USF Pro Championship car after a best lap of 1:15.5070.

Kyffin Simpson, who led morning practice, qualified fourth at 1:15.5334 in the No. 21 HMD Motorsports with CGR machine. Josh Green emerged as the third rookie among the top five, placing fifth at 1:15.6517 in the No. 3 HMD Motorsports with DCR car.

Series championship leader Christian Rasmussen _ who won the most recent event at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., from pole position _ qualified sixth at 1:15.6814 in the No. 6 HMD Motorsports with DCR machine.


Qualifying Friday for today’s GMR Grand Prix NTT IndyCar Series event on the 2.439-mile/14-turn Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:

1.(45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:09.3321 (126.643 mph)
2. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:09.3348 (126.638)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:09.3780 (126.559)
4. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:09.4220 (126.479)
5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:09.5422 (126.260)
6. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 01:09.6292 (126.102)
7. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:09.4419 (126.442)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:09.4711 (126.389)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:09.4757 (126.381)
10. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 01:09.5471 (126.251)
11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 01:09.6148 (126.128)
12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:10.1872 (125.100)
13. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:09.8402 (125.721)
14. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:09.8375 (125.726)
15. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:09.8676 (125.672)
16. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:09.9899 (125.452)
17. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:09.9625 (125.502)
18. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:10.0747 (125.301)
19. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:10.2625 (124.966)
20. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:10.2562 (124.977)
21. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:10.2669 (124.958)
22. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 01:10.2747 (124.944)
23. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:10.5181 (124.513)
24. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:10.2920 (124.913)
25. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 01:10.5424 (124.470)
26. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:10.3509 (124.809)
27. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 01:10.5879 (124.390)

Point Standings (top-10): 1, Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing, 130; 2, Pato O’Ward, Arrow McLaren, 127; 3, Alex Palou, Chip Ganassi Racing, 121; 4, Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske, 119; 5, Romain Grosjean, Andretti Autosport, 115; 6, Josef Newgarden, Team Penske, 105; 7, Will Power, Team Penske, 104; 8, Scott Dixon, Chip Ganassi Racing, 98; 9, Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport, 92; 10, Colton Herta, Andretti Autosport, 85.


Sunday, March 5 _ Streets of St. Petersburg, Fla.: Marcus Ericsson, Chip Ganassi Racing

Sunday, April 2 _ Texas Motor Speedway, Fort Worth: Josef Newgarden, Team Penske

Sunday, April 16 _ Streets of Long Beach: Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport

Sunday, April 30 _ Barber Motorsports Park, Birmingham, Ala.: Scott McLaughlin, Team Penske

Saturday, May 13 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, May 28 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Oval, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 4 _ Streets of Detroit, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, June 18 _ Road America, Elkhart Lake, Wis., USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 2 _ Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Lexington, Ohio. USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, July 16 _ Streets of Toronto, Peacock

Saturday, July 22 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, July 23 _ Iowa Speedway, Newton, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 6 _ Streets of Nashville, NBC/Peacock

Saturday, Aug. 12 _ Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road-Course, USA Network/Peacock

Sunday, Aug. 27 _World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill., NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 3 _ Portland (Ore.) International Raceway, NBC/Peacock

Sunday, Sept. 10 _ WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Monterey, Calif., NBC/Peacock

(Editor’s Note: John Sturbin is a Texas-based journalist specializing in motorsports. During a near 30-year career with the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, he won the Bloys Britt Award for top motorsports story of the year (1991) as judged by The Associated Press; received the National Hot Rod Association’s Media Award (1995) and several in-house Star-Telegram honors. He also was inaugural recipient of the Texas Motor Speedway Excellence in Journalism Award (2009). His list of freelance clients includes Texas Motor Speedway, the Dallas Morning News, New York Newsday, Rome (N.Y.) Daily Sentinel, Corpus Christi (Texas) Caller Times, NASCAR Wire Service, Ford Racing and Used Car Dealer magazine).

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Saturday, May 13 2023
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