INDIANAPOLIS — Christian Lundgaard is happy. He hasn’t felt like this in a while. He now knows that he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and that comfort is something that while he felt like he had it overseas, he also knew the room was crowded as well. He’s going to be an NTT INDYCAR Series driver for a long, long time ahead.
On Monday, the 21-year old Danish rookie signed a new contract extension to remain with Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing for the foreseeable future. On Tuesday, he was relishing in the fact that the pressure is now gone as a result of that move. He no longer is wondering about his future racing plans. They’ve been secured.
“I don’t think there’s been much I haven’t really liked about INDYCAR so far,” he told me on Tuesday. “There’s always going to be decisions you would have hoped you would have made different from several people, if it’s the stewards or the race director, et cetera, changes to the tracks and stuff like this.
“But I think overall, like I’ve said many times now when I moved over here and I’ve had the question what’s the difference about Europe and America, for me it’s about racing — it’s more about racing than it is about politics and et cetera. What I like about INDYCAR is the feeling I have here is the feeling I got when I fell in love with go-karts. You put the car on the ground, and you race, and you have fun. But you compete, and once the helmet’s off, everyone is best buddies.
“You don’t see that in Europe. For me, the life is good for me in America. I prefer it here. Obviously I miss family and friends and et cetera, but I’m sure a time will come for them to visit me.
“No, just everything about the sport over here is preferred for me.”
As a result, life is generally good for the youngster. He’s happy. He’s content. He is ending the his rookie year on a high note which includes a career best result followed by a career best qualifying result a week later. That runner-up at Indy a few weeks ago is what he notes is the first placed legal car and a race that he scored the most points in. Alexander Rossi won but was docked points via being underweight.
A new contract, one that lasts multiple years, on track success and a happy life has Lundgaard ecstatic at what his future holds.
While at one point that future was in F1. Being a developmental driver is stressful because there’s only 2 seats to move up to at the top. If both are taken by younger drivers or even 1 of the 2 with a veteran like Fernando Alonso, it’s a difficult path to move up to the top step. That’s what led him to America and he’s currently relishing in the opportunity and not looking back on what could have been overseas.
“INDYCAR is a lot about stability, and I don’t think many people realize this,” he noted. “Now I know that I’ll be with the same people, the same engineers, et cetera, the same team. And for me to know that and to be able to work close to them and be more a part of the team, I think is a big benefit.
“I think for me, obviously I don’t think I’ve properly realized yet, but I think my dad has because he sits on the sidelines and just watches the big picture of what’s going on.
“But this has basically been the longtime goal to get it done and have a multiple year agreement because it settles everything down. You’ve got a work path, and I think that’s just a benefit overall. But it’s been work from 2007, when I started racing, and now we’re here. It’s happening. I wouldn’t say we never expected it to happen, but it’s always been questionable if it was possible.
“I think — again, just to follow up on the question before, I don’t think necessarily my chances would have been as big in Europe as they would have been here. So that’s obviously a good choice to come here then.”
As far as to why Lundgaard is so content now compared to the beginning of the season is simple, it’s comfort inside and also outside of his car. He’s as happy now as he’s ever been in his life.
For the outside of it, his Indianapolis home is surrounded by Danish folks. Indy Lights driver Christian Rasmussen, who he says is a friend of his, lives down the hall from him. Indianapolis 500 champion Marcus Ericsson does too. Both he and Ericsson have Danish girlfriends. They all hang out.
“I think I’ve been extremely lucky, where I actually ended up placing myself in this apartment because Indy Lights driver Christian Rasmussen lives just down the hallway, the same building, and his neighbor, pretty much his neighbor, is Marcus Ericsson,” he says. “He’s Swede, and we’re Danish. My girlfriend is Danish. Marcus’ girlfriend is Danish. So we all hang out.
“That has helped me a lot because coming over here, there’s nothing worse than just sitting on your butt not doing anything. So I think that’s just helped my personal life, being comfortable, and I think everyone can relate to this. If your personal life doesn’t work, your work life doesn’t work. So I’ve just been incredibly fortunate to have this.”
In terms of inside the seat of his No. 30 Dallara-Honda, Lundgaard is starting to find his groove. It all started in Road America to where he scored his 2nd career top 10 finish. Prior to that, he had made 8 starts in the series with just a pair of top 11 results. Since that day in June, Lundgaard has 6 top 11 finishes in the last 7 races.
That’s the moment that he says turned this season around. It’s also around the time that he was feeling the pressure to figure out where his future was going to go. He wanted to stay here but did RLL want him?
The results picked up and RLL felt it was a no-brainer and locked him in. He heads to the World Wide Technology Raceway on the heels of a Fast 6 appearance at Indy and a career-best runner-up result. A week later, he earned his best career start (3rd) in Nashville and finished 8th.
He says that they didn’t expect that out of Nashville but with how much momentum that they were carrying, it drastically helped him net his 6th career top 15 in just his 15th start. In terms of the race, he says that he burnt his tires up early and if not for the red flag, he was likely destined for a second straight runner-up finish.
“I think in the beginning of the season we struggled a lot more than we thought we would. I think St. Pete was a special event. The first race of the season, I think everyone knew to get their feet on the ground and get going.
“I don’t think we started the weekend with the 30 crew that well. I think we were 25th in the first practice out of 27 cars or 26. But we made progress through the weekend, and we were looking at a P6 finish. We ended up P11, which it is what it is.
“Then we went to Texas. Our qualifying wasn’t great. As a team, we were struggling a lot in qualifying. And that whole continuation of the beginning of the season was just mentally tough for absolutely everybody in the team.
“I spoke to several people before the 500. After the 500, all the energy that goes into the 500, people start to degrade in the second part of the season, and that’s where we upped our game because the second half of the season so far, we’ve been strong. I think Road America was kind of the turning point when we started to perform better.
“We’ve been on a roll. We got our first podium. We qualified third at Nashville, which just for the record, I absolutely wasn’t expecting to happen. Now it’s done, and I’m happy. We’ve shown that we’ve got the potential.”
Now it’s to Gateway to where he’s 15th in points and leading the Rookie of the Year standings. Being top rookie is nice but it’s he says it’s not honestly been on his mind yet. He is looking at the overall points and notes that he’s 11 points behind teammate Graham Rahal for tops on the team. That’s his true goal now is to beat Rahal and Jack Harvey as the top points scorer for RLL in 2022.
“Honestly, for me I’ve said this before, I haven’t looked too much into the rookie standings,” he says. “I think now obviously there will be a bit more focus on it as we reach the end of the season. I just try to focus on each event as they come, and I’ve looked more at the overall standings, to be honest, than I’ve looked at the rookie championship. I’d rather want to win the whole championship.
“We aren’t in that position, so the rookie championship will for sure be our main goal for now. You only get one shot at it, so you’ve got to perform. That’s what’s tough about a rookie season is you’ve got one shot at it and you need to get everything right, but you’ve also got to learn as much as possible and mistakes will follow.
“I think we’ve executed quite well in the beginning of the second part of the season, and I think that’s why we are where we are in the rookie standings.
“I want to finish ahead of Graham. That’s my ultimate goal.”