Home Featured How 2.5 years of work, and three races, got Lundqvist a top IndyCar seat

How 2.5 years of work, and three races, got Lundqvist a top IndyCar seat

by Ida Wood

Photo: Chris Owens

Winning the 2022 Indy Nxt title wasn’t enough to get Linus Lundqvist into an IndyCar seat for this year, but once one last-minute opportunity came along it helped ignite his ongoing bid to be on the grid full-time

Linus Lundqvist keeps smiling. He can’t just stop. Not long after being announced as one of Chip Ganassi Racing’s IndyCar drivers for 2024, he’s sitting with a group of journalists who want to find out how he’s landed the hottest seat of silly season.

Although he won’t race for Ganassi until next year, Lundqvist is shadowing the team for the final two races of 2023 and seeking to learn as much as he can from his future crewmates to “hit the ground running” come the season-opening Grand Prix of St. Petersburg next March.

Estimations of how Lundqvist will perform with IndyCar’s current dominant team can wait for a later date, although his recent series cameos do provide a good picture, because what everyone wants to know is how the 24-year-old Swede went from struggling to convince any team boss to give him a ride to then landing a seat that most drivers in IndyCar would want.

“I mean, it’s unbelievable. Still, today I have difficulty to put it into words how much this means,” said Lundqvist. “I’m incredibly thankful to Chip [Ganassi], Mike [Hull] and everybody involved to making this happen. Firstly, it’s a dream to even be an IndyCar driver. But to be able to do it with a team like Chip Ganassi Racing, it’s unbelievable.”

What he’s working on right now is “learning everybody’s names” and “seeing how the team operates”, the end tasks on a mission lasting two-and-a-half years. At the start of that, Lundqvist was yet to even debut in IndyCar’s primary feeder series Indy Nxt, and had stepped down from Formula 3 to contest the Formula Regional Americas championship.

“Without the American ladder system with the scholarships, I would not be sitting here today,” affirms Lundqvist. “And that was one of the leading causes that made me venture over to the US.”

Photo: FR Americas

He dominated FRegional, winning 15 out of 17 races and going unbeaten in qualifying. After doing that, he thought it was a good point at which to start knocking on IndyCar’s door.

“I’ll tell you, I’ve been harassing this team for about two-and-a-half years time about getting me a deal. I started a very long time ago,” Lundqvist confessed.

After following up his FRegional title with the Indy Nxt one in 2022, Lundqvist’s best IndyCar option was reported to be Dale Coyne Racing. But no deal arose, and he spent winter “fighting like crazy to find a spot” at American single-seaters’ top level but was “bummed out” to fail in that quest. Since then, he has “tried to do everything” to remain “at the forefront of these team bosses’ heads”.

That worked, because when Meyer Shank Racing needed a substitute for the injured Simon Pagenaud at last month’s Music City Grand Prix, Lundqvist got the call. He qualified 11th and took fastest lap in the race on the streets of Nashville, but did not finish, “and after that, some more serious talks started to happen”.

“I’ve been harassing these team principals, each and every one of them, for the last couple of years, and I didn’t stop doing that. The only difference was that maybe at Nashville it was the other way around where all of a sudden they were calling me instead of me calling them.”

When Lundqvist impressed again in his second and third races as Pagenaud’s stand-in, finishing 12th on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course and taking another fastest lap at the Gateway oval, the calls kepts coming.

Those recent weeks of negotiation with Ganassi (and talks with other teams) may have “been intense”, but Lundqvist reiterates “this started a very, very long time ago” and was never holding the expectation “that it was going to work out” with any party. The fact that it previously didn’t “makes it the more sweeter” to land his coveted multi-year Ganassi deal, and even more so when thinking back to how he had to hunt for seats at times in junior series.

Lundqvist’s junior career
Years Series Starts Wins Poles Best champ. pos.
2015-’16 FR1.6 Nordic 29 10 8 1st
2017 British F4 30 5 5 5th
2017-’18 BRDC British F3 26 7 3 1st
2018-19 MRF Challenge 5 1x 3rd 1x 3rd 11th
2019 Euroformula Winter Series [F3] 2 1 1x 4th
2019 Euroformula [F3] 18 2x 3rd 1 5th
2020 FRegional Americas 17 15 5 1st
2021-’22 Indy Nxt 34 8 9 1st

“This is the first time ever in my career that I’ve actually known that I’m going to be racing full-time next year. And obviously, as part of a multi-year deal, I know that I’m going to be racing for a few years ahead of me, which is something unbelievable,” he said. “To be in this position, to be racing in IndyCar together with this team, my life has made a drastic change in the last couple of weeks.”

The mindset through his mission to make it into IndyCar was “I’m hoping for the best, but I’m preparing for the worst”. Once the calls were going back and forth between driver and teams, what was the latter asking for?

“The money side and the budget side of racing is always is always there,” Lundqvist told Formula Scout. “In IndyCar you’ve got not a 50/50 split, I think probably a few more of the teams have fully sponsored cars, which obviously give them a little bit more freedom and doesn’t require the driver to bring in sponsorship, which is good.

“A lot of the teams basically said that obviously you’ve done well in the junior series, but a lot about it is timing as well. Because even though when you have the results and even though from the outside it looks like everything might work out, there are other things happening and outside factors that can decide those decisions.

“I think when we had the opportunity at Nashville and at Indy and kind of showed for real what we have in the big series, I think they kind of took a second look at us and said that ‘hey, this guy, he’s a proven race winner in the lower series and he seems to be able to handle himself in IndyCar’. And I think that’s kind of what made the final decision, kind of tip them over. What I think, at least. I don’t know. You’re going to have to ask [Chip] yourself! But that’s the best way that I tell myself at night, at least that was the big decision moment.”

Lundqvist spent the whole of 2023 to date keeping race-fit, despite not knowing the physical demands of a full IndyCar race, being ready for if he was going to jump into a cockpit. It worked as he didn’t struggle on his debut, but he will still have to up his game on that front for next year which will be – despite IndyCar’s lack of a calendar yet – his busiest in racing.

Photo: Travis Hinkle

Having already done his talking over the phone, Nashville was the first opportunity to do it on track “in front of each and every team down this paddock”. And at the time, Lundqvist had no indication he would be needed again by Meyer Shank.

“I know how this business works, in the sense of I knew the pressure and the opportunity that I had going into Nashville, that if we were to perform, I was going to do myself and my career a huge favour. But it’s the same other way around. If I would have gone in and didn’t perform, then that’s probably the end of my career. So I knew the pressure that I had going into it and I did everything that I could to prepare myself for it and do the best job that we could.

“And I think that is one of the bigger reasons that we sit here today. I don’t believe that’s the full reason. I want to believe that the effort and work and results that we put in years prior to this, and maybe me harassing Mike and Chip over these last couple of years have actually paid off. I want to believe that a combination of all that may have made this happen.”

As impressive as two fastest laps from three IndyCar starts is, “I’d like to think it wasn’t just the fastest lap that made the decision from the big bosses to have me here”.

And now, to look ahead. Besides actually earning him his Ganassi seat, what have Lundqvist’s three races done in making him IndyCar-ready for 2024?

“These three races this year has helped me tremendously. And in almost an ironic way, this year seems to have prepared me the best possible way for next year. So I’m extremely thankful for the opportunity that I had with Meyer Shank. And I was happy as well that we were able to do Nashville (a street course), Indy (a road course), and Gateway (a short oval). And having tested on Texas earlier this year [pictured below], on a superspeedway.

“So we’ve ticked a lot of boxes this year. I would have loved to tick all of them and have been racing full-time. But if not, this turned out to be the second best way.”

Photo: Penske Entertainment

And that means for next year “I know it’s going to be tough in the beginning, but I also know that I’m going to have the best people surrounding me”.

Since the 2012 introduction of the Dallara DW12 (a car which over three lifecycles of updates has become the IR18), Ganassi has won six titles, with the most recent claimed last weekend. The contributions of their current line-up are 28 wins and four titles from Scott Dixon, nine wins and two titles from Alex Palou, and four wins from Marcus Ericsson including last year’s Indianapolis 500. Ericsson will move on next year, and Palou signed a deal to join McLaren but now plans to stay in his seat (and get sued for it). Lundqvist knows he’ll at least have six-time champion and “all-time great” Dixon to learn from.

“I’m extremely excited to be working with not only the drivers, but you look at the mechanic and engineering side and it’s some of the best names in the sport. And you just look at the team’s history, you know that you’re going to be able to fight for wins and podiums at almost every race, and that’s everything and more as a driver you could ask for.”

But Lundqvist is also preparing himself for a rookie season spent fighting in the midfield as although “I know I can be fast”, he will be “going up against some of the best who’s ever done it”.

“The one thing that I learned, especially in my second year in Indy Nxt, is just that I try to maximise whatever package I have on the weekend. And that being myself and the car. But if I’m only going to be 10th that day, then I’m going to fight like hell trying to be ninth instead of trying to be fifth. So that’s kind of the mindset that I go into next year, just trying to maximise whatever I have.

“Along with learning from this amazing group of people I’m going to be working with, and knowing that that’s basically where most of the speed and I think results are going to come from, just learn from these guys and try to get my own twist on it.”

And “hopefully by the end of the year, we see that I have an improvement and hopefully we can be there to mix it in every once in a while with them”.

IndyCar’s most recent rookies
Driver Team Starts Best R Best Q Joined from
Juri Vips RLLR 1 18th 18th F2
Linus Lundqvist Meyer Shank Racing 3 12th 11th Indy Nxt
Tom Blomqvist Meyer Shank Racing 2 24th 20th IMSA
Marcus Armstrong Chip Ganassi Racing 11 7th 7th F2
Agustin Canapino Juncos Racing 16 12th 18th TC2000
Sting Ray Robb Dale Coyne w/ Rick Ware Racing 16 16th 21st Indy Nxt
Benjamin Pedersen AJ Foyt Racing 16 15th 10th Indy Nxt
David Malukas Dale Coyne Racing 33 2nd 3rd Indy Nxt
Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport 33 1st 1st Indy Nxt

“Obviously a lot of learning and asking is going to be done in especially the first part of the season. But I know that once I’m comfortable with the car and getting to feel right at home, I know that the results and the speed is going to be there.”

That’s good, because as Chip Ganassi says: “I like winners”. And at the team Lundqvist wants personally “to be in a situation that you’re put under pressure, because it means you usually have the possibility to win”.