Kyle Wyman wins King Baggers in New Jersey, Tyler O’Hara champion
MONTEREY, Calif. — When a 19-year-old Danish driver arrived at the Indianapolis Speedway for the road race on Aug. 14, 2021, little was known about him.
Who was this Christian Lundgaard and why was he driven by team owner Bobby Rahal?
He quickly showed why by qualifying fourth for his IndyCar debut. Lundgaard would finish race 12ebut he proved to Rahal that he was capable of competing in the NTT IndyCar series.
During the offseason, Rahal signed Lundgaard for a full season in the #30 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Lundgaard rewarded him with the 2022 IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year award – 40 years after Rahal was IndyCar’s top rookie in 1982.
RETWEET to congratulate @lundgaardoff!
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 11, 2022
“I’ve got compatriots in Europe that I’ve trusted over the years, and everyone said, ‘You have to give this guy, Christian Lundgaard a chance,'” Rahal recalled. “(They said,) ‘He’s the real deal.’
“So we agreed and asked Christian to drive the Harvest Grand Prix a year ago. He puts him fourth on the grid.
“Most importantly, I think he helped develop a car in that short period of time, helped develop the car, gave us some direction on the car. It paid for us the rest of the year. A lot of the setup comes from the bindings we got through Christian at Indy.
“It’s not a fluke when you play like that. There is substance in there. We thought Christian could be something special. He’s very young, and we’re also looking to the future, and we were like, ‘Yeah, he’s a guy we want to have in this team for now and for the future.’ ”
Lundgaard finished 14e in the points standings, ahead of rookie David Malukas (16e), Callum Ilott (20e), Develin De Francesco (23rd) and Kyle Kirkwood (24e).
“I’m so happy for Christian,” Rahal said. “Rookie year, every track outside of Indy GP was a new circuit. You go to Texas, it’s an intimidating place. You go to Toronto; you go to Iowa. This young man had to learn as best he could these circuits in a very short time.
“I would like to think that we as a team helped him, but still, when you go out and start going, it’s kind of like holy (beep) – sorry, holy smoke – it’s a different place.
“So I’m really happy not only for Christian, but I’m really happy for his team, his group. Ben Segal, his engineer who was new to us this year and new to Christian. It’s sort of a start-up process, and they’ve really, over the year, grown together, and the results we’re seeing today reflect that.
In the three-driver RLL team, Graham Rahal finished season 11e and Jack Harvey finished 22n/a in the #45 Honda Hy-Vee.
So how will Lundgaard celebrate his IndyCar Rookie of the Year title?
“I’m going to Vegas,” he said. “I go back to my room, take a shower, then fly to Vegas tonight.”
Rahal joked, “Well he gets a bonus from somewhere else because it’s not from me.”
Lundgaard, who in August signed a multi-year contract extension to stay with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, said: “I have a contract. I guess that’s my bonus.
🟥 ANNOUNCEMENT 🟥
Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Christian Lundgaard will continue their multi-year contracts.
Thanks team. Let’s continue like this. pic.twitter.com/VGWHjg8fNO
—Christian Lundgaard (@lundgaardoff) August 16, 2022
Along with getting a new contract, he also impressed the IndyCar paddock.
Lundgaard was able to become the “Great Dane” by driving fast but also by controlling the car. While many of his fellow rookies have made mistakes this season, Lundgaard has rarely been criticized by other drivers for a mistake – even when he started racing ovals for the first time in his life.
In Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway in Laguna Seca, Lundgaard finished just behind Arrow McLaren SP’s Felix Rosenqvist.
“Tough race,” Rahal said. “The tires are everywhere. Strategies are everywhere. This young man, as we saw in Portland – yeah, a little mistake. But Indy, what the hell, he was there. He mixed it with the best guys.
“All I can tell you is that we’re really excited for next year, and we’re doing everything we can to make sure Christian, Graham, Jack have the cars they need to really be in the championship.”
Lundgaard’s best result this season was a second-place finish for winner Alexander Rossi in the Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on July 30.
“I think actually this race today could have been one of the best races we’ve had all year,” Lundgaard said. “I think we haven’t really been competitive all weekend. We were a little there but not really there. We didn’t qualify well enough. We were good on the blacks, but as soon as we put the reds on, there was just no rhythm.
“We got the job done today, and I’m just happy that the team gave me the opportunity to be here and do it. I’m grateful for Bobby. Thank you for giving me this opportunity and keeping me. I am happy. Now I have another championship to win.
“You only get one shot at the Rookie Championship, so getting it was a big achievement for me.”
Team owner Rahal admits that in many ways Lundgaard was the shining star of his racing team.
“It’s been a tough year for us,” admitted Rahal. “The first third or the first half of the year, it was very uneven. We didn’t give our drivers, Christian, Graham or Jack the cars they deserved.
“Having said that, everyone pulled together and kind of understood. Probably since, I guess, Toronto or just before Toronto, the performance as a team has measurably increased from where we were, and then we really saw what our drivers could do.
“As a driver, and I’ve been there, if you don’t have the right equipment, no matter how good you are, you won’t be able to show it. But this team has really bonded. There had a lot of hard work in the whole team.
” It was hard. Halfway through the season, it was tough. But everyone stayed the course, worked very hard and we saw the improvements in overall performance.
In 2020 a rookie driver from Spain joined Dale Coyne Racing and was so impressive he was taken on by Chip Ganassi Racing the following year. This driver from Alex Palou, who won the 2021 NTT IndyCar Series championship and also won Sunday’s race.
Could the same thing happen with Lundgaard in IndyCar?
“I think anything is possible,” Lundgaard said. “I’m not racing to finish second, so I’m going to do my best.”
His team owner is certainly sold on this idea of a championship with Lundgaard coming in the near future.
“Well, we wouldn’t have taken our option on him if we hadn’t thought about it,” Rahal said. “I think Christian is a big part of the future of RLL, and as you saw earlier this week, we’re bringing people in to help elevate the game of RLL, and I think combined – there’s Christian, obviously other new people are coming in, and the whole idea, we’re here to win, and we feel that Christian can win.
“I think he showed it this year. I mean, at the Harvest Grand Prix, we won the race because we were the first legal car.
Rahal was referring to the fact that winner Rossi’s car failed technical inspection after the race because a water bottle made the car overweight. Rossi was moored on points but held onto the win.
“It’s true,” Lundgaard said. “We scored the most points.”
“I’m just saying…” Rahal replied.
Although Lundgaard has gone through the European ranking system, he believes IndyCar is his racing home, rather than Formula 1.
“I have already watched IndyCar”, regrets Lundgaard. “Actually I would say I watched a lot of road racing and street racing because I still follow F1. I still follow some junior classes. I even still follow some kart racing. I would say I did before coming here.
“When I had the opportunity to test at Barber, I wouldn’t say no anyway, because I like the challenge of a new car just to drive the car and get to know America.
“But I fell in love with it, and I’m here, and I love it.
“I won’t leave.”