IndyCar’s top rookie talks biggest challenge, mind-blowing competitiveness

Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
Christian Lundgaard, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, IndyCar (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Christian Lundgaard spoke about what he has experienced in his first season as a full-time IndyCar driver with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

Through nine races in his rookie IndyCar season, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s Christian Lundgaard sits in 17th place in the championship standings, tops among all rookies.

His best finish is his ninth place finish in the race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and he has another top 10 result at Road America.

The 20-year-old Danish driver’s biggest challenge so far this season has been keeping up with veteran teammates Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey.

“Beating Graham and Jack,” Lundgaard said. “That has been tough. I think Graham is a very, very strong racer. He’s not the best qualifier, but damn, that guy can drive fast in the race. So for me, that’s been tough to keep up with, and I think that’s been the biggest and the best challenge for me, is to be sure to be consistent, get my elbows out when I need to, and pick the right fights.

“Graham has certainly done that with his experience in IndyCar. It’s his 15th season or something crazy; I was six years old then. But the experience that he’s got is what I need.”

While Lundgaard is a rookie this year, he did get the chance to make his IndyCar debut last year at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He qualified in an impressive fourth place and went on to finish in 12th, but he doesn’t necessarily think that this start played a key role in preparing him for his first full season.

“I wouldn’t say so, but at the same time, I’m sure it did,” Lundgaard explained. “I can’t really point at any specifics because what I know now is so much more. But I can’t tell you, if I didn’t do that race, would I know what I know now, right? I think it certainly didn’t hurt.”

What it certainly did do, however, was put his name out there and vault him into contention to drive one of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s three Hondas full-time in 2022, an opportunity that did end up coming to fruition.

“The way it helped me the most was sort of put my name out there and put my, I wouldn’t call it talent myself, but what I can do in the car when everything is there,” he continued. “I think that was certainly good for both of us, me and the team.

“But what I learned that weekend was how tough this series is, and that’s still a bit of a mind blower for me, because whatever track we go to, you see the same guys at the top, you see the same teams at the top. But you also see how tough and competitive this series is. That’s what I love about racing. You’ve got to work for the glory.”

Lundgaard’s highlight this season has been his consistency in terms of finishing races. His only DNF came in his oval debut at Texas Motor Speedway.

“Retiring in one race and not all of them!” he said. “I think finishing that many races in such a competitive series is somewhat of an achievement. I think that the last couple of races, I’ve been ahead of my teammates. That’s always a positive, and it’s been a tough task. I can’t get away from that one. But doing that consistently is what’s tough.”

His worst finish of 19th place is tied for the top worst finish among all drivers.

“Looking ahead for the rest of the season, the second half here, is coming in as a rookie, you’ve got so much to learn,” he continued. “But the second half of the season is when you’ve got to perform. You’ve got to use your knowledge to your advantage and prove that you’ve learned something.”

There are eight races remaining on this year’s schedule, including seven at six different venues where Lundgaard has not yet competed in IndyCar.

“I’ve learned so much this season and next season I’m looking forward to getting started because we are not in the position to win the championship now, so as a driver, personally, I want to learn as much as possible now about the tracks, about the car, and be sure that I know what I want for each track in the future.”

He doesn’t have any specific goals lined up for the remainder of the 2022 season in terms of Rookie of the Year, championship finish, or race results. He plans to take a race by race approach.

“I don’t look too much into this, honestly, because at this point in the season it’s, I wouldn’t say irrelevant, but each event is special,” he explained. “It’s unique. Each track represents something different – street circuits, ovals, etc. I’ve got to perform at the tracks I know, and I’ve got to do the best I can at the tracks I don’t know, for example, the ovals.”

In his only other oval start this year, he impressively made up 13 positions from his 31st place starting spot in the Indy 500.

“Luckily, we’ve only got three races left on short ovals,” he said. “We had a good test at Iowa, so I’m not too worried about that event. Also, I will turn 21 in Iowa during the race weekend, so obviously I want to give myself a good birthday for sure. That would be great. I can drink the champagne on the podium. That will be the highlight of the year!”

He sees the season’s penultimate race at Portland International Raceway as the one that should give him the best opportunity for a good result.

“I’d like to say Portland,” he said. “I like the track. I’ve never been there, but from what I’ve seen, it looks tough. It looks very much like Road America. Barber is more of an elevating track, where Portland has high consequences of a mistake. But I like those kinds of tracks; they’re very old school.”

He is also looking forward to the upcoming street races in Toronto, where he is set to debut a new HUB livery on his #30 Honda, and Nashville.

“I like the street circuits,” he said. “We haven’t been necessarily as competitive as we wanted there, but I’m learning so much about the car and the team that whatever race we go to now, I’ll feel comfortable.”

It’s no surprise what he sees as the biggest difference between IndyCar and some of the other series in which he has competed.

“Competitiveness,” he stated. “How close this series is, is crazy. And also, how quickly everything changes.”

He added that the amount of testing in IndyCar, compared to some of his other series, is significant in terms of making the series as competitive as it is.

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“But I think the biggest difference compared to, I’ll just say F2 as an example, is the amount of track time you have,” he continued. “I know everyone over here complains about no testing, no track time, etc., but I tell you, it’s a lot more than I’m used to. So I’m not complaining! I think the two key factors of this series are the competitiveness and how much luck can turn around.”