INDIANAPOLIS — A year after making his IndyCar Series debut, Christian Lundgaard turned in his season-best qualifying result with a sixth place in qualifying for Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
The Danish racer qualified with a fastest lap of 1 minute, 10.728 seconds to average 124.143 mph around the 14-turn, 2.439 mile road course, just .5015 seconds slower than polesitter Felix Rosenqvist.
Lundgaard advanced from the first group of round one as the fifth fastest car. In round two, Lundgaard was the final car to advance to the Firestone Fast Six. While Lundgaard was eighth fastest in the Friday morning practice, that result was in spite of his feelings toward the car’s setup. The team went back in their setup notebook to try some old tricks and that worked.
“I struggled a little this morning with the car, I wasn’t happy at all,” Lundgaard told TobyChristie.com. “And then we basically went back to last year’s car which I qualified here. We qualified fourth last year and we qualified sixth this year, so there must be something in that setup that works around here.”
Lundgaard’s qualifying effort is the first step of a rebound for the No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team. After four straight finishes of 11th or better, Lundgaard had a brake issue that caused him to finish last at the most recent IndyCar race at Iowa Speedway. Getting back into a good position is critical for Lundgaard’s rookie of the year campaign as he leads fellow rookie David Malukas by four points.
After qualifying eighth at the IMS road course in May, Lundgaard knew that getting things right was priority one for getting a good result. That approach has worked for the 21-year-old, who felt he had the car to get in the Fast Six in May.
“I think going into the weekend in general was more about executing when we knew we had to,” Lundgaard said. “And I think our car is just better around here, so executing was absolutely crucial. We didn’t execute in May for some reason. We had one car going off basically at the beginning of the lap, and when you look at the lap time, that’s where we missed out compared to the guys who did make it through in that specific section of the track.”
The 2017 Spanish F4 champion is enjoying his fourth race weekend at IMS. Lundgaard was the largest position-gainer among the rookies during this year’s Indianapolis 500 and knows there are gains to be made on the oval side.
“Well it is my second home, so going down this way down the straight is for sure better for me than the other way,” Lundgaard said, referring to the northern direction the Indy cars travel on the road course. “But we’ll make time up on the other way, for sure.”
Strategy for the IMS road course might be a critical issue for Saturday’s race. While traditionally the IMS road course is a race that favors the red sidewall alternate compound tires that Firestone brings to road and street courses, that might change for the 85-lap race.
The alternate sidewall compound is a softer compound that gives more grip usually at the cost of tire life. The alternate compound tire hasn’t usually suffered from reduced life before at IMS, but that has changed this weekend. Lundgaard and others had issues with the red tires’ consistency during qualifying.
“The Firestone tires, you can hustle them and they’ll hang on,” Lundgaard said. “The tires this weekend seem to be quite weak on the reds for some reason. They have one lap and that’s absolutely it. It’s a little tricky for tomorrow to see how it’s going to go because normally this is a red race and I think it could turn out to be a black race in the end so we’ll just wait and see.”
The Gallagher Grand Prix airs live Saturday, July 30th on NBC starting at noon ET with the green flag flying at 12:30 p.m. ET.