INDIANAPOLIS — Expectations were high for Christian Lundgaard as he started from pole position for the first time. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course has been kind to the Danish racer, but fourth place was the best the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Honda could finish.
Lundgaard lost the lead of the 85-lap race on the opening lap as eventual race winner Alex Palou made the pass in Turn 13 of the 14-turn, 2.439-mile road course. When Palou pitted for the first time on Lap 18, Lundgaard assumed the race lead until his own pit stop on Lap 20.
After putting on a new set of Firestone’s red sidewall alternate compound tires, Lundgaard took the lead back from Palou on Lap 31 as Palou was on the black sidewall primary compound tires. Lundgaard’s tires were the softer compound that give more grip, but they wear faster than the primary compound and Lundgaard’s lead went from 2.8 seconds on Lap 35 to gone as Palou retook the lead at Turn 1 on Lap 42.
BACK TO THE LEAD.@AlexPalou around @lundgaardoff for P1.#INDYCAR // #INDYGP pic.twitter.com/6rCOI2PIBj
— NTT INDYCAR SERIES (@IndyCar) May 13, 2023
Lundgaard pitted that lap, but the damage was done. A used set of red alternates did little to alleviate the slide as Pato O’Ward took second place from the 2017 Spanish F4 champion on Lap 57.
While O’Ward eventually finished second, Lundgaard’s slide continued as Alexander Rossi moved onto the final podium position on in Turn 7 on Lap 76.
Lundgaard held off Felix Rosenqvist’s advances as the race drew to a close as the 21-year-old maintained his position over the final nine laps.
While a top five finish after a sixth place finish at Barber Motorsports Park would be a cause for concern, there was a bit of frustration after starting on pole and not maintaining that position.
“Well, mixed emotions, I think to some extent you will disappointed with the result of today,” Lundgaard said. “It is unfortunate to start on pole and not at least come away with the podium, but I think the performance of the car today wasn’t good enough to finish on the podium. Perhaps if we would’ve done the strategy slightly different, we might have had a chance. But I think the podium finishers today definitely deserved it. They were the quicker cars.”
Lundgaard was on a new set of primary compound tires for his last stint of the race but could not catch O’Ward or Rossi on their alternate compound tires. The Arrow McLaren pair kept Lundgaard at bay as their tires did not have the same falloff at the end of the race as they did in the beginning.
“I was very surprised by everybody’s mileage on the tires,” Lundgaard said. “I was certainly not able to do that and it just indicates we were too hard on our tires today.”
Earlier in the weekend, Lundgaard credited his recent change in form to some golf he played before the late April race at Barber Motorsports Park. Lundgaard knows that there is a golf course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and might go a few holes on the course before practice.
“Right now I need a few beers and then I’m pretty sure I’ll just want to go straight out there (to practice),” Lundgaard said.
When asked if he would play some golf, Lundgaard knew there was only one answer.