Linus Lundqvist is proof the Swedish invasion extends beyond the NTT IndyCar Series.
A sophomore pilot of the No. 26 HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing entry in Indy Lights, the top developmental category for IndyCar, the 23-year-old Swede sits third in the overall standings entering this weekend’s round at Barber Motorsports Park.
Lundqvist entered the year as a title favorite after a strong rookie campaign in 2021 when he captured three wins, 11 podiums and three poles in 20 races en route to third in the championship.
It’s been a remarkable journey to this point for the Lundqvist. In the latest Q&A exclusive with TobyChristie.com, he shares racing idols, favorite circuits, winning a championship during COVID times his first year in America, and more.
Q: Who was your racing hero growing up?
Linus Lundqvist: From Sweden, I think Ronnie Peterson was obviously a big name that I grew up with, with the dream of reaching F1. On later years, I had two people that I really looked up to because Ronnie was always legend, but I had Lewis Hamilton because in 2007, I first started watching F1 and he was a rookie and started to win. Then, I have always looked up to Felix Rosenvqvist from when he won the F3 European championship and became the first Swede to ever do so. So I’d say Hamilton and Rosenqvist are the two people that I’ve looked up to in my career.
Q: What’s the dynamic been like for you with Felix considering you both now are within the same paddock?
LL: Yeah, it’s great. You know, even when I first came here to the U.S. in 2020, he was doing a second year in IndyCar at the time and it was just good to have another Swede to sort of bounce some ideas off. Both him and Marcus (Ericsson), they’re super nice. We meet a couple of times and we celebrated mid-summer last year together, et cetera. It’s a good group of guys. Me and Felix and our respective girlfriends went to New York for a weekend last year, so I’d say we started to become friends, which is kind of cool from my point of view.
Q: You moved from Europe over to here in 2020. I mean, I can’t think of a tougher year for you to come to the States. Obviously, competing in Formula Regional before you got into Indy Lights, but I can’t even think of what that experience must have been like for you, transitioning not just to a different country, but really being completely closed off with the COVID situation from family. Like, I don’t know how much of that helped you maybe focus more on the racing or how much of that also still just kind of weighed on you so heavily because you couldn’t share those moments with your family?
LL: Oh, yeah, 100 percent. Like you say, 2020, now in hindsight, was probably one of the best years but also one of the most difficult years that I’ve had. Obviously, one of the best years because we had a great season winning the championship, which was fun. But if you look outside of the racing part, it was one of the toughest years that I had. Firstly, just moving here to the U.S. and literally not knowing a single person. I moved in with another Swede, Jonnie Lindberg, a drag racer. I stayed at his house and I’d never met him before. We just had a common friend. I was looking at places of where I could stay and he said, “Yeah, I have a room. You can stay here.” I just got on a plane, flew over here, knocked on the door and said, “Hi, I’m Linus. I’m supposed to live with you.” Yeah, from there on it went. I mean, the team as well. Like, I’d never met a single person within the team. I just had maybe a dozen phone calls with Christian (Pedersen), the team boss at Global Racing Group, and that was it. So, a lot of new things in moving here and just moving away from friends, family, and all that; in the middle of a pandemic, as well. That didn’t really help. It was tough, but I think my savior that year was that the results on track were amazing. So, it sort of kept my spirit up for the rest of the year.
Q: So many racers that get into single-seater racing aspire to one day compete in Formula 1, even the likes of Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward have made it no secret and they’re fighting at the front of the field in IndyCar. So, for you coming over from the other side of the world where F1 is so prominent, what was the attraction or decision for you to, I don’t want to say change the dream, but maybe change the goal?
LL: I think for me it was more so realizing that racing today is, and it has always been to an extent, but it’s more than what you can do on track. We know that this business is a lot about off-track and getting a budget and the sponsorship of making it happen and make sure that you’re in the right team to be able to even fight for a championship. I started off in Europe, I’m from Europe and the dream was to reach F1. But quite early on, we realized that we never had the means to go and pay for an FIA F3 or F2 drive; not even close. You know, we were very fortunate to reach as far as we could in Europe, but quite quickly we realized that we probably don’t have the means to take the next step. Obviously, I’ve sort of always had an interest in IndyCar because, in my opinion, it’s the second biggest single-seater championship in the whole world. It’s not a bad place to be and the racing here is awesome. I’ve always had a keen eye towards IndyCar and the American championships, especially when you hear about the scholarships that you have here and the opportunity that you give young drivers, which you don’t have anywhere else in the world. That’s the big thing for me and the key area why I wanted to try my luck over here, because I know that even if you don’t have the biggest of budgets you win a championship, and that can take you very far. That’s exactly what happened to me. I didn’t really have anywhere else to go in 2020 and then we got the opportunity to do FR (Formula Regional) and won that championship and because of the scholarship from HPD, I was able to do Indy Lights last year. And because of what I did last year, I’m able to do it again this year. So yeah, it’s been an incredible journey. I’ll tell you that much.
Q: You didn’t come from a racing family, did you?
LL: No, first one actually in my family to even be interested in racing a motorsport. So yeah, not maybe the usual way. But yeah, it’s been a good journey. What’s fun is that we’ve always done it as a family thing, even from the get-go. You know, maybe the typical vacation that you go abroad, we just spend it in a camper van traveling Sweden doing the Swedish National Championship in go-karting. Eventually, we did single-seater and did both Europe and over here in America now.
Q: Is there any one or a few drivers out there that you kind of model your game after?
LL: I think all of the drivers have slightly different driving styles, so I wouldn’t say that there is one thing for one driver that I would try to be like. I’d like to say that I would take pieces from different drivers and sort of add it all up. I think just looking at, say, the last IndyCar race weekend at Long Beach, I think the raw speed that Colton Herta has is absolutely impressive. I think he shows that to almost every street track that he goes to. The amount of feel that that guy has over one lap is incredible and super impressive. But then you have somebody like Scott Dixon, for example, who for some reason just keeps on getting better and better. It feels like, and like he is able to pull out lap times with fuel saving and tire management that you don’t think should be possible. So I think there’s a mix of drivers that you look at and try to emulate a little bit. The same goes for, like when you look at some of the onboards that Pato (O’Ward) has and some of the saves that he pulls it’s incredible. But at the end of the day, I know that just because one driving style works for one driver doesn’t mean that it works for me. I believe in myself. I know that if I do my best and I’m on top of my game, I’m as good as anyone. I’d like to believe that there’s always things to improve, but I like to stick to what I’m comfortable with, say car setup-wise. I don’t want to look too far at anybody else. I know that when me and my engineer pull together in the same direction, we can beat anyone.
Q: Do you have a favorite track on the schedule or one you’re simply excited to get back to this year?
LL: Detroit will be my answer to that one. I loved going there last year. I’m a big fan of street courses. St Pete was obviously fun, always a nice place to go to both on-track and off-track, but I remember Detroit was the highlight for me last year. It was just such an awesome track; hardcore, bumpy, tough both physically and mentally, but so rewarding. Like, when you pull together a good qualifying lap, I remember the pole that we had there last year, it was one of those laps where you are properly buzzing after it last year. So yeah, super excited to be back.
Q: Where do you feel like you’ve needed to improve your race craft entering this year, just to give yourself a better chance to fight for the championship?
LL: There are definitely a number of things that you always want to improve on. Previously, going in as a rookie last year, there were a lot of new things, a lot of new tracks, new team, new car, new tires. So, I think just going into this year, staying with the same team, same engineer, same mechanic and knowing the people around you, it just helps to relieve a little bit of that pressure and you feel more comfortable and more confident. Everything that we did last year, we’ve just taken another step up this year. But I think one key area that our main focus during the off-season, and obviously now before the long stretch of races that we have ahead, is just to make sure that we qualify well. I think last year it showed how important qualifying was. Usually, where you qualify is where you end up because the racing is so difficult to overtake and you have to have such a big deficit to make it past. We know that a tenth (of a second) or two in qualifying can usually make or break a weekend, so we put a lot of effort into trying to make sure that we nailed the qualifying balance.
Q: Complete this sentence: I will win the Indy Lights championship this season if…
LL: If I win more races than anyone else. My personal target is to win as many races as possible but to win more than half of the races [14 events on schedule], that would be pretty cool.
I just have to add to it; you see the previous champions of Indy Lights and even race winners in Lights moving up to IndyCar almost straight away it seems like they’re on pace. They feel very comfortable, which is a super nice thing for us in Lights because it shows that if you’re quick in Lights, then you are probably bound to do very well in IndyCar as well. I think having the IndyCar test last November as well helped a little bit to understand what kind of car and beast you’re getting into at the next level, but it’ll also show that the technique and the fundamental things you’re doing in the Lights car you can replicate that in an Indy car, which is nice because it means that you don’t have to change your driving style if you were to move up.