Saturday, April 1, 2023

Lundgaard Claims 2022 IndyCar Rookie of the Year Title

Christian Lundgaard at the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
Christian Lundgaard at the 2022 Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. Photo courtesy of James Black/Penske Entertainment.

After starting Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey 10 spots lower than his NTT IndyCar Series Rookie of the Year Competitor, Christian Lundgaard finished in fifth place to win the Rookie of the Year award over David Malukas.

The Danish racer started 16th in the 26 car field at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. After 95 laps around the 11-turn, 2.238-mile road course, Lundgaard earned his second top-five finish of the season while Malukas finished 13th.

The No. 30 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda started on black sidewall primary compound tires. The strategy was to run long on the first stint of the race before switching to the red sidewall alternate compound tires at the first pit stop on Lap 22. The alternate compound tires give more grip at the expense of reduced tire life and IndyCar mandates that each driver compete on both compounds for two laps in a road or street circuit race.

By pitting later than most other drivers, Lundgaard moved up to second place behind eventual fourth-place finisher Felix Rosenqvist. Lundgaard then ran a short second stint of the race on a set of new alternate compound tires before finishing the race with two more stints on the primary compound tires.

Shortly after Lundgaard’s second stop, IndyCar threw a full course yellow due to Callum Ilott’s stalled car on the left side of the track exiting Turn 2. While drivers were rushing into the pits, Lundgaard went from 14th to ninth place before the field packed up under the yellow flag.

The 2017 Spanish F4 Series Champion advanced to seventh place before his final pit stop on Lap 66. Lundgaard moved up to sixth place after the rest of the field made their third pit stops and eventually snatched fifth place from Romain Grosjean on Lap 93.

By finishing fifth, Lundgaard won the Rookie of the Year award over David Malukas by 18 points.

“We did the job [Sunday], and I’m just happy that the team gave me the opportunity to be here and achieve this,” Lundgaard said. “I’m grateful for Bobby (Rahal). Thank you for giving me this opportunity and keeping me. I’m happy about that. Now I’ve got another championship to win.

“But no, you only get one shot at the rookie championship, so getting it was a big achievement for me.”

Lundgaard came from the European open-wheel formula ladder system. He drove two seasons in Formula 2 before making his IndyCar race debut at the 2021 Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in August.

A fourth place qualifying effort impressed many, even though Lundgaard finished 12th after suffering the effects of food poisoning after qualifying. While Lundgaard was an unknown in America, America was not unknown to Lundgaard.

“I’ve watched IndyCar before,” Lundgaard said. “Actually I would say I’ve watched many road courses and street circuits because I still follow F1. I still follow some junior categories. I even still follow some go-kart races. I would say I did before coming over here.

“When I got the opportunity to test at Barber, I wouldn’t say no anyway, because I like the challenge of a new car just to drive the car and get to know America. But I fell in love with it, and I’m here, and I love it. I won’t leave.”

Three rookies scored top-five finishes in 2022, but Lundgaard was the first to score a podium with a runner-up finish at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in July. After IndyCar determined that race winner Alexander Rossi’s car was underweight, IndyCar penalized Andretti Autosport and Rossi 20 points for the infraction.

“We’re here to win, and we feel that Christian can win,” said team co-owner Bobby Rahal in the post-race press conference. “I think he showed that this year. I mean, at Harvest Grand Prix, we won the race because we were the first legal car.”

Lundgaard replied, “That is true, we did score the most points.”

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