IndyCar GMR GP starting lineup: Lundgaard takes first pole on a great day to be RLL driver


INDIANAPOLIS – Christian Lundgaard has been telling his team lately that “it’s a great day to be in America,” and the IndyCar GMR Grand Prix starting lineup indicated that Friday was a great day to be a part of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Lundgaard scored his first NTT IndyCar Series career pole position on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, turning a 1 minute, 9.3321-second lap around the 2.439-mile layout to nip Felix Rosenqvist (the Swede qualified second by the narrowest margin in the race’s history) and form a Scandinavian front row.

Teammates Jack Harvey (fourth, the first time he’d reached final-round qualifying since August 2021) and Graham Rahal (eighth) also turned in strong performances as RLL qualified all three of its drivers in the top 10 for the first time this season.

QUALIFYING RESULTSClick here for GMR GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3

PRIMARY OR ALTERNATETire designations for the starting lineup

It was the fourth-closest Fast Six in IndyCar history (three occurring this season) for the knockout qualifying format that has been used in 125 sessions. The top four were within a 10th of a second, and the top 22 of 27 entrants were separated by a second.

Excelling in such a tight field was a needed boost for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, which moved into a state-of-the-art shop in Brownsburg, Indiana, while overhauling its technical department in the offseason but still got off to a slow start in 2023.

“All the resources that’s been put into this has not been rewarded up until now,” said Lundgaard, the 2022 IndyCar rookie of the year who became the first Dane to race at the Indy 500 last year. “We had a very good end to the season last year, but we weren’t able to continue that going into the beginning of this season, and it annoyed me a lot because obviously I’m asking the questions, ‘What have we done different?

“There wasn’t really anything that was dramatically different that should drastically change it as much as it was from the end of the season to the beginning of the season, so now sitting here I’m only proud of this team. Everything we’ve achieved up until now, I would say we set the benchmark in Barber a couple of weeks ago.”

Lundgaard qualified and finished sixth in his most recent race at Barber Motorsports Park, his best showing since a fifth in last year’s season finale at Laguna Seca WeatherTech Raceway.

His career-best finish was a second last August at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, where he first burst onto the scene by qualifying fourth for his Aug. 14, 2021 debut in IndyCar.

“I wish I could tell you, man,” he said when asked why he was so good on the road course that initially was built to play host to Formula One races 23 years ago. “I want to know myself. This place just is amazing. What whatever way you drive around, if it’s one or the other, it’s amazing. I think the atmosphere around this place just brings us drivers alive.

“I don’t think it’s a secret that this track fits the European drivers. I’m sitting next to a Swede. Jack is in here, Pato (O’ is in here. It is a very sort of European style track, so I think it just fits us pretty well.”

So does living and racing in the United States. Lundgaard began telling his team over the radio “What a great day to be in America” because one of his sponsors (a Canadian, no less) had said it. But it also could apply to Lundgaard’s career, which had stalled out in F2 before he made the leap to IndyCar.

“I wouldn’t have driven in 2022 if I didn’t come here,” he said. “I guess you can call it a lifesaver.”

RLL might be saying the same about Lundgaard if he manages Saturday to deliver the team its first victory since Takuma Sato in the 2020 Indy 500. During the postqualifying news conference, he was talking like a team leader on the cusp of a breakthrough (and on losing a mustache that he has vowed to shave after his first victory).

“We’re on an upward slope,” he said. “We want to improve and we need to improve. I know how much work goes into every single little aspect of making this car faster. Looking at our results, we haven’t really been able to. I think we’re all a little disappointed in St. Pete, definitely disappointed in Long Beach

“We expected to be faster, and we weren’t. So we are hard on ourselves, as well. Once these days come, we expect to be here, but we’ve also got to reward ourselves and understand that all the hard work does pay off eventually, and I think this is just a sign of hard work paying off, but we also need to keep in mind the race is tomorrow.

“We need to win tomorrow’s race, and that’s the target. At this point I think we’ll be pretty disappointed in second tomorrow or just a podium. I think we’re absolutely going for winning the race.”

Here’s the IndyCar starting lineup for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine and speed):


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)

ROW 10

19. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:10.2625 (124.966)
20. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:10.2562 (124.977)

ROW 11

21. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:10.2669 (124.958)
22. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 01:10.2747 (124.944)

ROW 12

23. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:10.5181 (124.513)
24. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:10.2920 (124.913)

ROW 13

25. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 01:10.5424 (124.470)
26. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:10.3509 (124.809)

ROW 14

27. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 01:10.5879 (124.390)

‘It’s gnarly, bro’: IndyCar drivers face new challenge on streets of downtown Detroit

IndyCar Detroit downtown
James Black/Penske Entertainment
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DETROIT – It was the 1968 motion picture, “Winning” when actress Joanne Woodward asked Paul Newman if he were going to Milwaukee in the days after he won the Indianapolis 500 as driver Frank Capua.

“Everybody goes to Milwaukee after Indianapolis,” Newman responded near the end of the film.

Milwaukee was a mainstay as the race on the weekend after the Indianapolis 500 for decades, but since 2012, the first race after the Indy 500 has been Detroit at Belle Isle Park.

This year, there is a twist.

Instead of IndyCar racing at the Belle Isle State Park, it’s the streets of downtown Detroit on a race course that is quite reminiscent of the old Formula One and CART race course that was used from 1982 to 1991.

Formula One competed in the United States Grand Prix from 1982 to 1988. Beginning in 1989, CART took over the famed street race through 1991. In 1992, the race was moved to Belle Isle, where it was held through last year (with a 2009-2011 hiatus after the Great Recession).

The Penske Corp. is the promoter of this race, and they did a lot of good at Belle Isle, including saving the Scott Fountain, modernizing the Belle Isle Casino, and basically cleaning up the park for Detroit citizens to enjoy.

The race, however, had outgrown the venue. Roger Penske had big ideas to create an even bigger event and moving it back to downtown Detroit benefitted race sponsor Chevrolet. The footprint of the race course goes around General Motors world headquarters in the GM Renaissance Center – the centerpiece building of Detroit’s modernized skyline.

INDYCAR IN DETROITEntry list, schedule, TV info for this weekend

JOSEF’S FAMILY TIESNewgarden wins Indy 500 with wisdom of father, wife

Motor City is about to roar with the sound of Chevrolet and Honda engines this weekend as the NTT IndyCar Series is the featured race on the nine-turn, 1.7-mile temporary street course.

It’s perhaps the most unique street course on the IndyCar schedule because of the bumps on the streets and the only split pit lane in the series.

The pit lanes has stalls on opposing sides and four lanes across an unusual rectangular pit area (but still only one entry and exit).

Combine that, with the bumps and the NTT IndyCar Series drivers look forward to a wild ride in Motor City.

“It’s gnarly, bro,” Arrow McLaren driver Pato O’Ward said before posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice. “It will be very interesting because the closest thing that I can see it being like is Toronto-like surfaces with more of a Long Beach-esque layout.

“There’s less room for error than Long Beach. There’s no curbs. You’ve got walls. I think very unique to this place.

PRACTICE RESULTS: Speeds from the first session

“Then it’s a bit of Nashville built into it. The braking zones look really very bumpy. Certain pavements don’t look bumpy but with how the asphalt and concrete is laid out, there’s undulation with it. So, you can imagine the cars are going to be smashing on every single undulation because we’re going to go through those sections fairly fast, and obviously the cars are pretty low. I don’t know.

“It looks fun, man. It’s definitely going to be a challenge. It’s going to be learning through every single session, not just for drivers and teams but for race control. For everyone.

“Everybody has to go into it knowing not every call is going to be smooth. It’s a tall task to ask from such a demanding racetrack. I think it’ll ask a lot from the race cars as well.”

The track is bumpy, but O’Ward indicated he would be surprised if it is bumper than Nashville. By comparison to Toronto, driving at slow speed is quite smooth, but fast speed is very bumpy.

“This is a mix of Nashville high-speed characteristics and Toronto slow speed in significant areas,” O’Ward said. “I think it’ll be a mix of a lot of street courses we go to, and the layout looks like more space than Nashville, which is really tight from Turn 4 to 8. It looks to be a bit more spacious as a whole track, but it’ll get tight in multiple areas.”

The concept of having four-wide pit stops is something that excites the 24-year-old driver from Monterey, Mexico.

“I think it’s innovation, bro,” O’Ward said. “If it works out, we’ll look like heroes.

“If it doesn’t, we tried.”

Because of the four lanes on pit road, there is a blend line the drivers will have to adhere to. Otherwise, it would be chaos leaving the pits compared to a normal two-lane pit road.

“If it wasn’t there, there’d be guys fighting for real estate where there’s one car that fits, and there’d be cars crashing in pit lane,” O’Ward said. “I get why they did that. It’s the same for everybody. I don’t think there’s a lot of room to play with. That’s the problem.

“But it looks freaking gnarly for sure. Oh my God, that’s going to be crazy.”

Alex Palou of Chip Ganassi Racing believes the best passing areas will be on the long straights because of the bumps in the turns. That is where much of the action will be in terms of gaining or losing a position in the race.

“It will also be really easy to defend in my opinion,” Palou said. “Being a 180-degree corner, you just have to go on the inside and that’s it. There’s going to be passes for sure but its’ going to be risky.

“Turn 1, if someone dives in, you end up in the wall. They’re not going to be able to pass you on the exit, so maybe with the straight being so long you can actually pass before you end up on the braking zone.”

Palou’s teammate, Marcus Ericsson, was at the Honda simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana, before coming to Detroit and said he was shocked by the amount of bumps on the simulator.

Race promoter Bud Denker, the President of Penske Corporation, and Chevrolet Detroit Grand Prix President Michael Montri, sent the track crews onto the streets with grinders to smooth out the bumps on the race course several weeks ago.

“They’ve done a decent amount of work, and even doing the track walk, it looked a lot better than what we expected,” Ericsson said. “I don’t think it’ll be too bad. I hope not. That’ll be something to take into account.

“I think the track layout doesn’t look like the most fun. Maybe not the most challenging. But I love these types of tracks with rules everywhere. It’s a big challenge, and you have to build up to it. That’s the types of tracks that I love to drive. It’s a very much Marcus Ericsson type of track. I like it.”

Scott Dixon, who was second fastest in the opening session, has competed on many new street circuits throughout his legendary racing career. The six-time NTT IndyCar Series champion for Chip Ganassi Racing likes the track layout, even with the unusual pit lane.

I don’t think that’s going to be something that catches on where every track becomes a double barrel,” Dixon said. “It’s new and interesting.

“As far as pit exit, I think Toronto exit is worse with how the wall sticks out. I think in both lanes, you’ve got enough lead time to make it and most guys will make a good decision.”

It wasn’t until shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Friday that the IndyCar drivers began the extended 90-minute practice session to try out the race course for the first time in real life.

As expected, there were several sketchy moments, but no major crashes during the first session despite 19 local yellow flags for incidents and six red flags.

Rookie Agustin Canapino had to cut his practice short after some damage to his No. 78 Dallara-Chevrolet, but he was among many who emerged mostly unscathed from scrapes with the wall.

“It was honestly less carnage than I expected,” said Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood, who was third fastest in the practice after coming off his first career IndyCar victory in the most recent street race at Long Beach in April. “I think a lot of people went off in the runoffs, but no one actually hit the wall (too hard), which actually surprised me. Hats off to them for keeping it clean, including myself.

“It was quite a bit less grip than I think everyone expected. Maybe a little bit more bumpy down into Turn 3 than everyone expected. But overall they did a good job between the two manufacturers. I’m sure everyone had pretty much the same we were able to base everything off of. We felt pretty close to maximum right away.”

Most of the preparation for this event was done either on the General Motors Simulator in Huntersville, North Carolina, or the Honda Performance Development simulator in Brownsburg, Indiana.

“Now, we have simulators that can scan the track, so we have done plenty of laps already,” Power told NBC Sports. “They have ground and resurfaced a lot of the track, so it should be smoother.

“But nothing beats real-world experience. It’s going to be a learning experience in the first session.”

As a Team Penske driver, Power and his teammates were consulted about the progress and layout of the Detroit street course. They were shown what was possible with the streets that were available.

“We gave some input back after we were on the similar what might be ground and things like that,” Power said.

Racing on the streets of Belle Isle was a fairly pleasant experience for the fans and corporate sponsor that compete in the race.

But the vibe at the new location gives this a “big event” feel.

“The atmosphere is a lot better,” Power said. “The location, the accessibility for the fans, the crowd that will be here, it’s much easier. I think it will be a much better event.

“It feels like a Long Beach, only in a much bigger city. That is what street course racing is all about.”

Because the track promoter is also the team owner, Power and teammates Scott McLaughlin and Indy 500 winner Josef Newgarden will have a very busy weekend on the track, and with sponsor and personal appearances.

“That’s what pays the bills and allows us to do this,” Power said.

Follow Bruce Martin on Twitter at @BruceMartin_500