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 RESULTS: Click here for GMR GP qualifying speeds | Round 1, Group 1 | Round 1, Group 2 | Round 2 l Round 3
PRIMARY OR ALTERNATE: Tire 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.
A moment he'll never forget.
Ride along with 1st time NTT P1 Award winner @lundgaardoff around the @IMS road course. #INDYCAR // #INDYGP pic.twitter.com/f4zOPwHN1I
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 12, 2023
“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.
"What a great day to be in America."
Listen to @lundgaardoff's radio after Christian got his first career @INDYCAR pole. #INDYGP pic.twitter.com/SQUxlmDM4k
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 12, 2023
“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
Will this be the weekend @lundgaardoff shaves his mustache?
He won't shave it until he wins an @INDYCAR race. pic.twitter.com/htfN8A1TAL
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) May 12, 2023
“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)
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)