Alpine’s other graduate of 2021 heading for top rookie honours in IndyCar · RaceFans

Christian Lundgaard made his IndyCar Series debut a year ago during the Brickyard Grand Prix weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. On Sunday, Lundgaard scored his first career podium with a second-place finish behind winner Alexander Rossi.

“It feels amazing,” remarked the 21-year-old rookie on his breakthrough result.

In last year’s Brickyard GP, the former Alpine Academy member appeared with Rahal Letterman Lanigan in the midst of a difficult sophomore season in Formula 2, which produced just three sprint race podiums.

The lasting negative image of Lundgaard’s second F2 campaign was a non-scoring weekend in Monaco, hampered by two mechanical failures in the sprint races – a major setback in a spec category where reliability should be taken for granted. By the end of the season, his fellow junior Oscar Piastri had clinched the F2 title while another, Zhou Guanyu, bagged an F1 seat at Alfa Romeo.

But in a new environment, Lundgaard showed promise in his one-off IndyCar debut – qualifying an astonishing fourth place and even leading two laps before finishing 12th, in the top half of the field. It was enough to convince RLL to sign him up for a full season in 2022.

Second on his first anniversary showed Lundgaard’s progress

While Lundgaard had been solid if unspectacular to this point, he came back to the Indy road course using the exact same car and set-up that he ran with last year, converting a sixth-place qualifying result into a runner-up finish.

“I’m just a guy doing my job, really,” he said. “I want to win, so I try as best I can every event.”

“I think the best feeling right now, is that the team really deserves it. They’ve worked super hard, and we’ve had such a struggling beginning to the season.”

He identified round 10 on the streets of Toronto, where Lundgaard finished eighth, as the point where he felt his season was starting to trend upward.

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“I think coming to Toronto was when things started to change. We saw sort of a streak where we started to perform better. Even Road America, Mid-Ohio was there. We were on the edge of [the] top 10. To come here and finish second, I think the team deserves every bit of it.”

With his second place finish at Indy, Lundgaard now sits 15th in the IndyCar championship table. Crucially, he is 27 points ahead of Dale Coyne Racing driver David Malukas in the Rookie of the Year standings with four races left.

Toronto was “when things started to change”, says Lundgaard

While 15th out of a field of 25 full-time drivers may not sound impressive, it’s worth remembering that the last two IndyCar Rookie of the Year winners, Scott McLaughlin and Rinus VeeKay, each finished 14th in the standings. In fact, since the 2008 reunification of American open-wheel racing, only four Rookie of the Year winners have finished in the top ten in the standings (and 2018 winner Robert Wickens was sixth before sustaining life-changing injuries in a crash at Pocono Raceway).

“It’s going to be a massive confidence boost for everyone to keep digging,” Lundgaard said of his podium finish. “This is the right path. We’re going in the right direction.”

Lundgaard’s first IndyCar podium also marked RLL’s first podium finish for more than a year, since Graham Rahal’s third place in Texas. The rookie credited his senior team mate for helping to push his own development forward.

“Graham has helped me massively, understanding how much you can push the tyres,” Lundgaard said of Rahal and the feedback he’s provided. “He’s extremely good on the long run, making the tyres last, making the fuel last, and just being competitive – even in a car that might not be competitive enough to be there, we’ve had some good results.”

“I’m very pleased to have Jack [Harvey] and Graham by my side and helping me.”

And as IndyCar’s silly season has kicked into high gear, Lundgaard’s success after steering out of a dead-end path in European single seaters should give some of the current F2 grid – particularly those who don’t have a clear path to move up to F1, with or without the desired results – something to think about as they contemplate their racing futures.

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