INDIANAPOLIS — There’s just something about the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course that suits Christian Lundgaard and Felix Rosenqvist well. The duo will share the front row in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix (3:30 p.m. ET, NBC, INDYCAR Radio Network) with Lundgaard earning his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole award by going 1:09.3321-seconds in his No. 45 Dallara-Honda on an action packed Friday afternoon from the mecca of motorsports.
“I wish I could tell you, man. I want to know myself,” said Lundgaard on why he’s so good here. “This place just is amazing. What whatever way you drive around, if it’s one or the other, it’s amazing. I think the atmosphere around this place just brings us drivers alive.
“I don’t think it’s a secret that this track fits the European drivers. I’m sitting next to a Swede. So we’re up here. Jack is in here, Pato is in here. It is a very sort of European style track, so I think it just fits us pretty well.”
This is also the spot that Lundgaard made his INDYCAR debut just 21 months ago. It’s the spot of his first podium (2nd) last July. Now, it’s the spot of his first pole. However, he notes that he didn’t necessarily want all these firsts to come here.
“The one thing I was annoyed about having my podium here last year was I didn’t want to have it here because I did my debut here and I didn’t want people to think this was just the track that I was fast at, and we showed up in Nashville and was P1 in the first session the weekend after,” Lundgaard told me.
“This is what I want to do now. Now we’re starting the race from pole, but we also need to win the race. We need to take it step by step and see what we can do tomorrow and back it up for the proper month of May.”
For whatever reason, Lundgaard is just good here. He’s qualified fourth, eighth, sixth and now first in four tries. So is Rosenqvist. This will mark his second straight front row starting position on this 2.439-mile road course layout and sixth top 10 start in nine tries.
“I mean, I can finally call this home, I think,” Lundgaard joked. “Waking up this morning, I knew we were going to have a chance to get into the Fast Six because we’ve done that pretty much every time we’ve been here, at least with me, and I hoped it was going to happen, and now I can sit here and it’s a reality, which is pretty cool.”
This race in 2019 was Rosenqvist’s first career pole in the series and last July, was the site of his third. He was the final driver to cross the timing line in the Firestone Fast Six and had a lap going that was going to be good enough to beat Lundgaard. However, the had a bobble in the infield portion and that skated off the speed to do so.
“I thought I had a mega lap going and I kind of messed it up a bit in Turn 9,” he said of that final lap. “I was just going for make or break, and didn’t make. Three thousandths, that’s always tough, but honestly I’m super happy to be P2.”
The Scandanavian duo will look to score victories in Saturday’s 85-lap race and hold off some hard chargers from behind.
“Yeah, there was a few changes, but quite honestly, the car is almost the same as we started practice one,” Lundgaard said on if any changes were made to the car despite being P2 in both practices. “It’s a car that was fast for me here two years ago for the second Indy GP and it was fast here in the first Indy GP last year and the second one.
“We just have a fast car here, which is obviously great because now we translated that into our first NTT P1 award. We’ve got to dig deeper for every where else. As I mentioned before, I don’t just want to be fast here, I want to be fast across all 17 races. We’ve got to keep working and trying to figure that out.”
Alex Palou (1:09.3780-seconds) starts third in his No. 10 Dallara-Honda. Palou has finished in the top eight in all four races run this season and was in the top three of both practice sessions on Friday. He’ll share Row 2 with Lundgaard’s RLL teammate of Jack Harvey (1:09.4220-seconds). Harvey looks back to form and could be a legitimate sleeper winner on Saturday.
Pato O’Ward (1:09.5422-seconds) and Kyle Kirkwood (1:09.6292-seconds) rounded out the top six in the final round.
In a series to where points are of the essence with just 15 points separating 1st from 5th, just two drivers that come into this weekend’s race even made it to the final round of qualifying on Friday. Second place in points, Pato O’Ward, rolls off fifth. Third in points, Alex Palou, starts third. Can they take advantage of this on Saturday?
Points leader Marcus Ericsson will roll off seventh. Ericsson has one top five finish in eight career starts here. Scott McLaughlin is fourth in points but starts a dismal 16th. He’s joined back there with fifth in points Romain Grosjean who’ll roll off 18th. Sixth in points is Josef Newgarden and he starts 13th. His teammate Will Power is one spot behind him in points (7th) but starts one spot ahead of him (12th) on track.
Strong Day For RLL, Ganassi, McLaren
Chip Ganassi Racing and Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing have both struggled lately in qualifying here. Graham Rahal had started 10th or worse in 6 of the last 7 road course races here entering the weekend. Jack Harvey was 9th and 13th last year. Christian Lundgaard was an impressive 8th and 6th.
This season, Harvey had qualified 19th, 28th, 15th and 24th respectively. Rahal has been 20th, 24th, 24th and 19th respectively. Lundgaard had started 11th, 27th, 17th and 6th respectively.
They were 2-5-13 and 2-5-14 in both practices. That translated into all three making it to the second round and two of which in the final round. All will come from the top eight starting spots.
For CGR, they’ve not been qualifying well here as of late but finishing better instead. Just like RLL.
They’ve had just 5 total podiums here with only two of which since the Aeroscreen was adopted in 2020. In the case of Scott Dixon, the good? 11 top 10 finishes in 13 starts. The bad? none of the last six finishes here have been better than 8th either. Prior to that, he did have four consecutive top two finishes here. It’s qualifying that’s holding him back with his last six qualifying efforts being 12th, 15th, 16th, 26th, 21st and 20th respectively.
He enters having scored three top seven finishes in four races run this season and was in the top 10 (8th, 9th) in both practices. Dixon starts ninth.
Like Dixon, Marcus Ericsson finishes well, but not always in the top 5 here. In 8 starts, he has 5 top 10 finishes. However, just 1 of those 5 he’s finished in the top 5 (4th last May). Qualifying has been their crux too. He’s started 9th, 14th, 15th, 16th, 15th, 11th, 18th and 25th respectively. He was 7th and 10th in the pair of practices this weekend and will roll off seventh.
Alex Palou had a fast car last May before going off course in the rain, was 3rd in May 2021 and had a podium going before his engine blew in the August prior. If luck is on his side, watch out. However, that’s asking a lot for a driver with finishes of 27th, 18th and 10th respectively too. On the season, he’s finished eighth, third, fifth and fifth respectively. He was in the top three (3rd, 1st) in practice and qualified third too.
Then you have rookie Marcus Armstrong. He’s never raced here before but does have three top 11 finishes in three attempts this season which includes a 15-spot improvement from 26th to 11th the last time out in Barber. He was fourth in final practice and will come from 11th on Saturday.
Arrow McLaren Racing actually qualifies really well here too. They just don’t finish well. They basically meet Ganassi in the middle on race day. Felix Rosenqvist was 6th in May and 9th in July but had more speed in it. Pato O’Ward has two 5th placed finishes in his last 5 starts here. What’s baffling is, O’Ward has four top 5 starting spots in his last five starts here too, but three of his last four finishes have been 12th or worse. Rosenqvist has one top 5 in 8 tries and despite a pair of top 10’s a year ago, he also qualified 6th and 1st respectively. Alexander Rossi may be the one to watch among this group. He won the last time out here in July and has 5 top 7 finishes in his last 6 tries here including 4 of which in the top 4.
All three drivers were solidly in the Top-10 the last time out in Barber and O’Ward has three top four finishes in four races run this season.
In practice, O’Ward was first and third, Rosenqvist sixth and 12th and Rossi 17th and 11th. They’ll start second (Rosenqvist), fifth (O’Ward) and 10th (Rossi).
Penske Still Looking For Speed
A few years ago, this race was actually dubbed the Penske Grand Prix. Heading into the 2020 season, Penske had won this race in 5 of the 6 years that it was around including having every winner of it under their umbrella (Simon Pagenaud won the inaugural race for SPM in 2014). Then, Scott Dixon went out and whooped the field in July 2020 in winning by nearly 20 seconds over second place. That ended the Penske reign. They’ve not won this race since and so far this weekend, that streak looks to extend another year.
In 2021, Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay triumphed that day in beating Romain Grosjean and Alex Palou.
Penske went 3-7-20 that July 2020 race. In 2021, they were 4-6-8-11. Last year they went 3-20-25.
On Friday, while they were solid in practice, they just didn’t have it in qualifying. Will Power (starting 12th) was the only one to make it out of the opening round of qualifying. Josef Newgarden (starting 13th) and Scott McLaughlin (starting 16th) were both bounced in round one.
That’s a stark difference than where they were in practice this weekend. The Penske trio went P4 (Scott McLaughlin), P9 (Will Power) and P15 (Josef Newgarden) in Practice 1 respectively. In Practice 2, they went P6 (Newgarden), P7 (McLaughlin) and P8 (Power).
Now, they’re playing for a top five instead of a podium.
The thing is, they’ve been so good in the return trips.
Newgarden led 34 of 85 laps in his win during the first doubleheader race of the Harvest Grand Prix race weekend in 2020. A day later, Power led all 75 laps in victory.
In August 2021, Power led 56 of 85 laps in another win. Last year, he finished third in that summer race. The question now is, why are they so good outside of May here and how can they recapture that May magic back?
They took 2 of the top 3 finishers the last time out in Barber including the win by McLaughlin and have won 2 of the last 3 races on the season entering. That’s why Friday was more puzzling than anything.
Kirkwood Lone Bright Spot In A Dark Friday For Andretti
Kyle Kirkwood took his No. 27 Dallara-Honda all the way to the Fast Six on Friday. That was the only bright spot that the Andretti Autosport camp had on a wild day in Indianapolis. The other three cars were bounced in the first round with Colton Herta starting 14th, Devlin DeFrancesco in 15th and Romain Grosjean in 18th.
I don’t think anyone saw Grosjean being the last qualifier among the bunch. I mean he’s won two poles this season, won a pole here in 2021 and coming into this weekend having finished second in the last race. They had this race circled as one he could pick up his first career win in.
Now, he’s playing from way behind.
Grosjean was only 16th and 19th respectively in practice and just doesn’t have it this weekend.
Defending race winner, Colton Herta, starts 14th while Devlin DeFrancesco starts 15th.
At one point here, Andretti Autosport wasn’t very good on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. From 2014 through 2019 (6 races), they had just two total podium finishes. However, once the Aeroscreen came on these cars beginning in 2020, they’ve had triple the amount of podium finishes in just one more start.
Andretti has 6 podiums in the last 7 races including sweeping both races last year. In fact, those 6 podiums since 2020 is tied with Team Penske (also with 6) for most in the series since that span started.
No one else has more than two. Andretti combined to lead 61 of the 85 laps last July and 50 of 75 laps May. Can they win another race on Saturday?
So far, it looks like, no.
They were also only 12th (Kyle Kirkwood), 16th (Romain Grosjean), 22nd (Devlin DeFrancesco) and 27th (Colton Herta) in the opening practice. In the second one, they went just 13th (Kirkwood), 15th (Herta), 19th (Grosjean) and 22nd (DeFrancesco) respectively.
ECR/MSR Each Don’t Have It This Weekend
Simon Pagenaud knows how to get around here. He won this race three times (2014, 2018, 2019) and was runner-up just a year ago. Same for his Meyer Shank Racing teammate Helio Castroneves. He’s a four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and has four top six finishes in this race even.
However, when Pagenaud says after qualifying on Friday that they, “just don’t have it,” then you have to take notice. The Frenchman qualified only 19th for the race. He said his car is handling well, but it’s just missing a few tenths.
Similar for Castroneves. He blew an engine in the previous practice session and only got to 26th in qualifying.
The duo are in the midst of a miserable season. Pagenaud has only qualified 25th, 22nd, 14th, 16th and 19th now. His best finish is 15th with an average finish of 19th this season and average start of 19.3.
Castroneves’ average start is 18.3 and average finish is 18.8. These two didn’t forget how to drive… They were only P18 (Pagenaud) and P23 (Castroneves) in Practice 1 and P16 (Pagenaud) and P27 (Castroneves) in Practice 2.
Similar struggles out of the Ed Carpenter Racing camp too. Rinus VeeKay won this race just two years ago. He’ll start Saturday’s race in 17th. Veekay was 10th and 18th in the pair of practices.
Conor Daly will roll off 21st. He qualified fourth for this race last year and had four straight top 10 starts here.
“We will work our butts off to be quick tomorrow,” Daly said. “It is been a trend to slip a bit back at every track we’ve been at this season and we have to do a better job. We need to do a good job at delivering information in order to be better. Rinus (VeeKay) and I can’t be happy with where we are starting. We have to be honest with ourselves to be willing to get this to the next level. It’s a real, real shame with the tough year we’ve had. Hopefully tomorrow will be better. You never know what will happen and we’ve raced well here before. I’ll try to take this BITNILE.COM Chevrolet forward.”
“Today was difficult with the weather being unpredictable,” he said. “We are missing the balance for the new tires so we are chasing it a bit. A tough session especially when a tenth would move us into the second round. We can race our way forward tomorrow. Even when things are tough like today, we always can make progress. We have an extra set of red tires for tomorrow and the team will do everything they can.”
The thing is, like MSR, they’ve just lacked the pace all year too. Daly has qualified 26th, 25th, 27th, 20th and now 21st. VeeKay has started 24th, 26th, 19th, 9th and 17th himself.
GMR Grand Prix Starting Lineup
Row 1: Christian Lundgaard, Felix Rosenqvist
Row 2: Alex Palou, Jack Harvey
Row 3: Pato O’Ward, Kyle Kirkwood
Row 4: Marcus Ericsson, Graham Rahal
Row 5: Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi
Row 6: Marcus Armstrong R, Will Power
Row 7: Josef Newgarden, Colton Herta
Row 8: Devlin DeFrancesco, Scott McLaughlin
Row 9: Rinus VeeKay, Romain Grosjean
Row 10: Simon Pagenaud, David Malukas
Row 11: Conor Daly, Sting Ray Robb R
Row 12: Benjamin Pedersen R, Callum Ilott
Row 13: Agustin Canapino R, Helio Castroneves
Row 14: Santino Ferrucci