Coming into the Road America race weekend, Linus Lundqvist was making a statement to the rest of the Indy Lights field. This was his title to lose. He wanted that scholarship to move up to the NTT INDYCAR Series for the 2023 season. The Swedish driver was coming off of 3 straight wins and 4 in the last 5 races including leading every lap in them.
The last time someone not named Lundqvist led a lap in the series was actually in the GMR Grand Prix race weekend at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. By virtue of his dominance, he held a commanding 84 point advantage over his teammate Benjamin Pedersen in the standings coming to the midway mark of the 2022 season.
In Friday’s practice, Lundqvist was quickest. He was telling the field come get me. The problem was for him, they did.
Lundqvist qualified a disappointing 6th on Saturday afternon. It was the 1st time all year he didn’t come from a front row starting spot. He’d finish 4th without leading a lap. Last year, he was 4th and 5th respectively on this 4-mile track and now 4th again.
He did luck out in a sense that Pedersen’s backslide continued. He started 7th and finished 11th. After a start to the year that saw Pedersen finish runner-up in 3 of the opening 5 races, he’s since finished 6th and 11th and dropped to 3rd in points (-97). He was also 7th, 8th, 9th and 3rd in his 4 Mid-Ohio starts a year ago too, so the slide may continue in early July.
The other reason that he’s fallen down a spot in points is also due to the emergence of Sting Ray Robb. The Andretti Autosport driver scored his first pole of his Indy Lights career on Saturday and finished runner-up on Sunday. It was his 5th podium in 7 races run this season but 1st time he was 2nd. The other 4 times he was 3rd. He’s also had a top 4 result in all but 1 race this year and has started in the top 3 in 5 of those 7 races at that. His hot streak has him now 82 points back of Lundqvist as he’s starting to get looks from INDYCAR teams.
The thing is, as “off” as a weekend Lundqvist had, his points lead only fell by 2. Can Robb who’s never won an Indy Lights race in 27 starts make up 82 points on the guy who’s had 7 wins in the same span?
The door is open because Lundqvist also finished 4th in both races at Mid-Ohio in July of 2021 and 6th in the 1st of 2 races at the end of the season there but won the 4th. Robb was 11th, 10th, 5th and 7th respectively in the 4 races in Lights competition but was 10th, 3rd and 1st in 2020 in Indy Pro 2000 racing there too. He was 5th and 2nd in 2019, 9th and 4th in 2018 10th, 6th and 5th in 2017 in his other Mid-Ohio starts in Indy Pro 2000.
You’re also starting to see why Hunter McElrea and Christian Rasmussen were signed by Andretti. Both rookie drivers are finding their groove.
McElrea was 3rd on Sunday at Road America for his 2nd straight podium and 4th top 6 in the last 5 races. Rasmussen got his 3rd top 4 in the last 5 races via his maiden Indy Lights win in Road America. He led 18 of the 20 laps and moves to 6th in points. This was his 4th win in his last 5 starts in Elkhart Lake which gives him some promise heading to Mid-Ohio to where he’s equally as strong. Rasmussen was 1st, 5th, 1st and 3rd in 4 Indy Pro 2000 starts on the track just last year. He won all 3 races there in USF 2000 competition in 2020 and was 1st and 2nd in 2019 in the same series on the same track. That’s 7 top 2 finishes in 9 Mid-Ohio starts.
McElrea was 3rd and 9th in Indy Pro 2000 competition at Mid-Ohio in 2020 and 4th, 1st, 7th and 6th last year. He was also 2nd and 1st in 2019 in USF 2000 racing there. He’s won in the other two ladders at Mid-Ohio, can he do so in the third?
The only problem for both drivers here is, they’re 6th and 7th in points 7th largely because of crashing a lot this season. Both crashed from the lead in St. Pete. McElrea won the pole and finished 14th after his wreck. Rasmussen took over the lead from McElrea and wrecked while in the top spot too and came home 12th as a result. At Barber, McElrea crashed and was 12th. Rasmussen was 11th. In Belle Isle, Rasmussen crashed within 1 lap of each other in a 24 hour span in Belle Isle in the same turn at that and finished 13th in both races. McElrea was 12th in Race 1.
When they’re clean, they’re good. Do they have enough time to make a run with Robb?
The other Andretti driver is Matthew Brabham. He’s quietly sitting in 5th in points after a top 10 in every race but just 2 podiums. 1 of which was his season opening win. While he’s been taking care of his equipment unlike his 2 rookie teammates, he’s also not finishing in spots that award trophies either which is why he’s 5th and not further up. He was 5th and 12th in the Indy Lights doubleheader weekend on the track in 2014, swept the weekend in Indy Pro 2000 in 2013 and was 3rd and 25th in USF 2000 in 2012.
This has basically come down to a battle between HMD Motorsports and Andretti Autosport.
Andretti Autosport has won 8 of the last 9 Indy Lights races at Mid-Ohio on a track that rewards qualifying. The last 8 races were won by a front row starter. The last 19 from a starter from the top 2 rows.
James Davison back in 2008 was the last time someone won at Mid-Ohio from a starting position worse than 4th. That’s the only time it’s happened since Indy Lights started coming to the track in 1986 (32 out of 33 times).