MONTEREY, California – When a younger, 19-year-old driver from Denmark arrived on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the highway course race on August 14, 2021, there was little recognized about him.
Simply who was this Christian Lundgaard and why was he being given a experience from crew proprietor Bobby Rahal?
He shortly confirmed why by qualifying fourth for his IndyCar debut. Lundgaard would end the race 12th, however he proved to Rahal that he was able to competing within the NTT IndyCar Sequence.
Through the offseason, Rahal signed Lundgaard to a full-season experience within the No. 30 Honda at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.
Lundgaard rewarded him by successful the 2022 IndyCar Sequence Rookie of the Yr Award – 40 years after Rahal was IndyCar’s high rookie in 1982.
RETWEET to congratulate @lundgaardoff!
— INDYCAR on NBC (@IndyCaronNBC) September 11, 2022
“I’ve compatriots in Europe that I’ve trusted through the years, and all people stated, ‘You’ve obtained to present this man Christian Lundgaard a shot,’ ” Rahal recalled. “(They stated,) ’He’s the actual deal.’
“So, we agreed, and we requested Christian to drive on the Harvest Grand Prix a yr in the past. He places it fourth on the grid.
“Much more importantly, I believe he helped develop a automotive in that quick time period, helped develop the automotive, gave us some course on the automotive. That paid off for us the rest of the yr. A lot of the setup on that got here from the bindings that we obtained by Christian at Indy.
“It’s not a fluke once you carry out like that. There’s substance to that. We believed that Christian could possibly be one thing particular. He’s very younger, and we’re additionally wanting on the future, and we thought, ‘Yeah, it is a man that we wish to have on this crew for now and for the longer term.’ ”
Lundgaard completed 14th in te factors standings, forward of rookies David Malukas (16th), Callum Ilott (20th), Develin DeFrancesco (23rd) and Kyle Kirkwood (24th).
“I’m simply so happy for Christian,” Rahal stated. “Rookie yr, each observe outdoors of Indy GP was a brand new circuit. You go to Texas, that’s an intimidating place. You go to Toronto; you go to Iowa. This younger man needed to study as greatest he might these circuits in a really quick time period.
“I’d prefer to suppose we as a crew helped him, however nonetheless, once you get on the market and also you begin going, it’s form of like holy (bleep) — sorry, holy smokes — it is a totally different place.
“So, I’m actually happy not only for Christian, however I’m actually happy for his crew, his group. Ben Segal, his engineer who was new to us this yr and new to Christian. That is form of a starting course of, and so they actually, over the course of the yr, grew collectively, and the outcomes we see right now are a mirrored image of that.”
On the three-driver RLL crew, Graham Rahal completed the season 11th and Jack Harvey completed 22nd within the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda.
So, how is Lundgaard going to have a good time his IndyCar Rookie of the Yr title?
“I’m going to Vegas,” he stated. “I’m going again to my room, having a shower, after which we’re jetting off to Vegas tonight.”
Rahal quipped, “Effectively, he’s getting a bonus from elsewhere as a result of it isn’t from me.”
Lundgaard, who in August signed a multiyear contract extension to stay at Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, stated, “I’ve obtained a contract. I assume that’s my bonus.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan & Christian Lundgaard to proceed with multi yr deal.
Thanks crew. Let’s preserve this going. pic.twitter.com/VGWHjg8fNO
— Christian Lundgaard (@lundgaardoff) August 16, 2022
Along with getting a brand new contract, he additionally impressed the IndyCar paddock.
Lundgaard was in a position to grow to be the “Nice Dane” by driving quick but in addition controlling the automotive. Whereas lots of his fellow rookies made errors this season, Lundgaard not often was criticized by different drivers for an error — even whereas he started racing on ovals for the primary time in his life.
In Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey at WeatherTech Raceway at Laguna Seca, Lundgaard completed simply behind Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren SP.
“Robust race,” Rahal stated. “Tires are everywhere. Methods are everywhere. This younger man, as we noticed in Portland — yeah, slightly mistake. However Indy, what have you ever, he was there. He was mixing it up with the highest guys.
“All I can let you know is we’re actually enthusiastic about subsequent yr, and we’re doing all the pieces we are able to to guarantee that Christian, Graham, Jack have the automobiles they should actually determine within the championship.”
Lundgaard’s greatest end this season was a second place to race winner Alexander Rossi within the Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway highway course on July 30.
“I believe truly this race right now may need been one of many higher races we’ve had all yr,” Lundgaard stated. “I believe we weren’t actually aggressive all weekend. We had been type of there however not likely there. We didn’t qualify nicely sufficient. We had been good on the blacks, however as quickly as we put the reds on there was simply no tempo.
“We did the job right now, and I’m simply completely happy that the crew gave me the chance to be right here and obtain this. I’m grateful for Bobby. Thanks for giving me this chance and conserving me. I’m completely happy about that. Now I’ve obtained one other championship to win.
“You solely get one shot on the rookie championship, so getting it was a giant achievement for me.”
Staff proprietor Rahal admits that in some ways, Lundgaard was the shining star of his race crew.
“It has been a troublesome yr for us,” Rahal admitted. “The primary third or half of the yr, it was very spotty. We didn’t give our drivers, Christian, Graham or Jack, the automobiles that they deserved to have.
“Having stated that, all people pulled themselves collectively and form of figured it out. In all probability since, I assume, Toronto or simply earlier than Toronto, the efficiency as a crew elevated measurably in comparison with the place we had been, after which we actually noticed what our drivers might do.
“As a driver, and I’ve been there, should you don’t have the suitable gear, I don’t care how good you’re, you’re not going to have the ability to present it. However this crew actually got here collectively. There was a number of exhausting work all through the crew.
“It was robust. Midpoint of the season, it was robust. However all people stayed the course, labored actually exhausting, and we noticed the enhancements within the efficiency general.”
In 2020, a rookie driver from Spain joined Dale Coyne Racing and was so spectacular, he was employed by Chip Ganassi Racing the next yr. That driver from Alex Palou, who gained the 2021 NTT IndyCar Sequence championship and likewise gained Sunday’s race.
May the identical factor occur with Lundgaard in IndyCar?
“I believe all the pieces is feasible,” Lundgaard stated. “I’m not racing to complete second, so I’ll give it my greatest shot.”
His crew proprietor is actually offered on that concept of a championship with Lundgaard coming within the close to future.
“Effectively, we wouldn’t have taken our choice up on him if we didn’t suppose,” Rahal stated. “I believe Christian is a giant a part of the way forward for RLL, and as you noticed earlier this week, we’re bringing individuals in to assist increase the sport of RLL, and I believe mixed — there’s Christian, clearly, different new individuals coming in, and the entire concept, we’re right here to win, and we really feel that Christian can win.
“I believe he confirmed that this yr. I imply, at Harvest Grand Prix, we gained the race as a result of we had been the primary authorized automotive.”
Rahal was referring to the truth that winner Rossi’s automotive failed postrace technical inspection as a result of a water bottle put the automotive chubby. Rossi was docked factors however saved the win.
“That’s true,” Lundgaard stated. “We did rating probably the most factors.”
“Simply saying …,” Rahal replied.
Though Lundgaard got here up by the European ladder system, he believes IndyCar is his racing house, somewhat than Method One.
“I’ve watched IndyCar earlier than,” Lundgaard unhappy. “Really, I might say I’ve watched many highway programs and avenue circuits as a result of I nonetheless observe F1. I nonetheless observe some junior classes. I even nonetheless observe some go-kart races. I might say I did earlier than coming over right here.
“Once I obtained the chance to check at Barber, I wouldn’t say no anyway, as a result of I just like the problem of a brand new automotive simply to drive the automotive and get to know America.
“However I fell in love with it, and I’m right here, and I find it irresistible.
“I gained’t depart.”