Home Featured Lundgaard “‘got the spark for the sport” back by leaving F2 for IndyCar

Lundgaard “‘got the spark for the sport” back by leaving F2 for IndyCar

by Ida Wood

Photo: Penske Entertainment / Karl Zemlin

Christian Lundgaard is starring in his second season of IndyCar, taking a pole and two top-five finishes in the first nine races. That’s a stark contrast to his second season in F2 in 2021, and now he reveals why

In the 2021 Formula 2 season opener at Bahrain, ART Grand Prix’s Christian Lundgaard was pipped to pole by 0.003 seconds. He never got that close to the front of the grid again, averaging 11th place in qualifying in the remaining seven rounds of the season and with an average deficit of 0.758 seconds to the pace in his sophomore year in the series.

The 21-year-old Dane started 2023 by starting 11th at the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, making it to the third segment of qualifying where he was 0.4176s off the pace. Since then the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver has had an average starting position of 13.88 and been 0.738s off the pace, despite taking his first pole, in his sophomore IndyCar campaign.

The difference was in 2021, Lundgaard was with a team he was expected to fight for the title with. He finished 12th in the standings. This year, he and RLLR are targeting a win and a handful of top-five finishes, and are currently 10th in the points.

Lundgaard only debuted in single-seaters back in 2017, racing in Formula 4 as a Renault Formula 1 junior and dominating the North European Zone and Spanish championships. He followed that up by taking the Formula Renault Eurocup title fight to the final race the next year, then stepping up to FIA Formula 3 where he won with ART GP shortly after turning 18.

At the end of 2019 he came fourth in the Macau Grand Prix and stepped up to F2, convincing Renault and ART GP that a second season in F3 wasn’t required. Lundgaard took a pole and two wins en route to seventh in the standings as a rookie, scoring 2.8 times as many points as his team-mate Marcus Armstrong, and was even briefly linked to a 2021 Renault F1 seat.

Lundgaard’s rookie F2 season was seriously impressive. He had the second highest average starting position of anyone, was the sixth fastest driver on outright pace over the year and eighth on average race pace. That translated into the second highest sprint race points tally on the grid, bettered only by the champion, and becoming only the second 18-year-old ever to win in F1’s primary feeder series. But Renault was wanting more.

Photo: Joe Portlock / Getty Images

“Christian was exceptional in some of the races this year where he totally dominated. He had one pole position, two wins and four podiums, which speaks well of his raw talent and ability,” said the Renault Sport Academy’s then-director Mia Sharizman at the end of the year.

“Nevertheless, [as] with every young driver in a rookie season, consistency has been Christian’s main issue, which is something we will together address for the future.”

For 2021, Lundgaard was partnered with 17-year-old rookie Theo Pourchaire at ART GP and his team-mate proceeded to smash the record for F2’s youngest winner and…   score 2.8 times as many points as him.

Lundgaard got several F1 test outings in 2020, but such opportunities became more scarce the year after and by summer he was aware there would not be an F1 role for 2022 so he negotiated with RLLR to do a private IndyCar test. Having impressed the team, he then sought permission from Alpine (the new name of Renault in F1) to make his IndyCar debut with RLLR on the fabled Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course. Lundgaard went on to qualify fourth and finish 12th, stunning the series.

That immediately put him in contention for a 2022 seat, not just with RLLR but with Andretti Autosport too, and Lundgaard described his debut as “one hell of an experience”. But upon his F2 return he admitted “I don’t know what I favour the most” when it came to choosing whether to pick the F2 or IndyCar route for the next year.

In the gap before the final two F2 rounds, Lundgaard nailed down a multi-year deal with RLLR and it has proven to be an inspired decision. Although Lundgaard’s poor second F2 season and lack of an FIA superlicence made an F1 move for 2022 an impossibility, he has since shown that what is now known as the Alpine Academy once again lost one of its best talents.

Ahead of this weekend’s IndyCar race on the streets of Toronto, Lundgaard spoke to media including Formula Scout about how he is thriving in racing once again in IndyCar.

Photo: Renault Sport

“When I spoke to [fellow F2-to-IndyCar star] Callum Ilott, when I did my first race in 2021, and I came back to finish my season in F2, we were talking about [why IndyCar appeals], and I just really liked the environment of the series, and everything that the series does for the sport,” said Lundgaard.

“And it’s just fun. I mentioned this last year [and] when I did my debut, that it reminds me a lot about go-karts. It’s a fun racing series where I do feel like some of the racing series in Europe can be very political and you get to the point where you’re ‘okay, am I really enjoying this? Is this what I really wanted to do?’. I’m not going to say that you’re doubting yourself, but I think when I came here, I kind of got the spark for the sport again, and it made racing fun. And I would only say the series has become more competitive since then, so it’s only more fun now.”

Lundgaard finished seven of the 17 races in his rookie season in the top 10, including a maiden podium when he took the chequered flag in second place on the IMS road course. He also qualified third in Nashville and at Portland, and was not only the top rookie in the standings but more than a match for his experienced team-mates Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey.

There have been five top-10 finishes so far this season, including fourth places at IMS (where he claimed pole) and last time out at Mid-Ohio. The key, as Sharizman pointed out several years ago, has been “consistency [and] experience, really”. It’s worth remembering that F2 and IndyCar are the only two series Lundgaard has ever spent more than one year in.

“This year I’ve had to spend a lot less time trying to figure my way around in the beginning of each practice session whenever we go to a race weekend,” said Lundgaard. “This year, I’ve just been fast from the get-go. I felt comfortable.”

“And I do believe our package is better at certain places. So whenever we do have that, I’m just trying to execute. And I’d rather want to finish fourth twice, than not even finishing the race while fighting for the podium. Because right now we need the consistency, we need the points.”

Photo: Joe Skibinski

Lundgaard has also applied his F2 and F1 experience effectively to aid RLLR’s set-up direction (which has to suit three full-time drivers), which is something Alpine must be ruing they now can’t utilise.

“I’m so young and I’ve driven a lot of cars in Europe, that are in my opinion quite difficult to drive. And I’ve also driven some easy ones. And just my experience with the F1 team a few years ago when I was doing a lot of simulator work. You’re very involved, and you drive a lot of different cars. A lot of different, I wouldn’t necessarily just call it set-ups, but the evolution of different cars, and you understand the differences and how you need to drive certain cars.

“And I wouldn’t say you develop the skill, but you sort of do. I mean, you just get a better understanding and you improve your talent. And I guess that’s why on certain occassions, Graham will complain more about the car than I will because I kind of just get on with it. And we saw the car was in a good window for him at Mid-Ohio and he was fast. There is no doubt that Graham is a good driver. The same for Jack. But I just think I can do things that they can’t do just because of my previous experiences.”

Lundgaard added: “I want to win, and we’re not in the position to win right now as a team. So I basically dedicate my time as much as I can to do that [objective]. And sometimes I will say I do forget how to live, because you’re so caught up in it.”

Unlike F1 and its supports where teams are mandated to run either two cars (or three in the case of FIA F3), IndyCar and its supports series give more flexibility to entrants and this enables drivers and teams to get a taste of a series by going part-time in their maiden campaign.

But with IndyCar being as competitive as it is, several Indy Nxt drivers are seeing that although you can learn a lot with a part-time move up to IndyCar in 2024, to strengthen their chances of a full-time ride in 2025 they may have to skip next season entirely to save up the budget (like reigning Indy Nxt champion Linus Lundqvist) for the year after. There is the risk that if they commit to only a few IndyCar races next year to at least get their face into the paddock, it may prove difficult to impress in a bit-part programme and make them a less attractive signing for 2025 even if they have the budget for a full season.

IndyCar’s GP2/F2 & FR/FV8 3.5 converts
Year Driver Races Best result
2023 Marcus Armstrong 7 2x 8th
2021 Christian Lundgaard 27 1x 2nd
2018 Santino Ferrucci 52 1x 3rd
2018 Jordan King 12 1x 11th
2018 Pietro Fittipaldi 9 1x 9th
2018 Rene Binder 6 1x 16th
2015 Stefano Coletti 16 1x 8th
2014 Mikhail Aleshin 46 2x 2nd
2014 Carlos Huertas 21 1 win
2013 Luca Filippi 23 1x 2nd

Drivers coming over from F2 simply aren’t as aware as their Indy Nxt counterparts of the complexities of the IndyCar driver market, the IndyCar circuits and the kind of drivers that different teams are looking for. Lundgaard landed a full-time seat from the off, Ilott did the last three races of 2021 with Juncos Hollinger Racing before signing with them full-time for 2022 and Armstrong has made his way into IndyCar via a programme with Chip Ganassi Racing that excludes the year’s five oval races.

Formula Scout asked Lundgaard if he thought it was possible, as a F2 convert, to be in an as competitive position as he is now had he raced part-time for his rookie IndyCar season.

“I think that would be be possible, Yes. But at the same time, if you have the opportunity to come in for a full-time [ride], I don’t see a reason why not to. In the end, it’s a job as well and it’s job security. And it gives you the possibility to shine on more occassions. So if you had the opportunity to go full-time rather than half-time, I would definitely do full-time.

“Everybody wants to drive as much as they can. We’re racing drivers. We wake up, want to race, and we go to bed, want to race. When there’s an off-period over the winter time, we’re just ready to go. And then we get five races in and we’re like ‘oh, can this be finished now’,” he joked.

What attracts Lundgaard to IndyCar is also what makes being a first or even a second-year driver so difficult, and demonstrates how well he is performing with a team that has won once in the last three-and-a-half seasons.

“What I really like about the series [is racing on road courses, street courses and ovals]. You have a lot of different challenges that you don’t have in other racing series. It’s such a high level. And I was talking to to my engineer and my crew on the car from the engineering side, and we were talking specifically about Scott Dixon at the time and how he is just very a complete driver. And we’re seeing that in Alex Palou now. That’s what I’m hearing from other people, that he’s just a complete driver. He doesn’t have any weaknesses.

Photo: James Black

“And thinking about it, back in the days in IndyCar when they were running so many ovals, where a rookie now comes in. When I came in last year, Callum, we have Armstrong this year, how are we really supposed to get good at ovals very quick when we only do two speedways, superspeedways a year, you know? But you also want to prioritise the other [15] races that we race. So it’s just a super competitive racing series, and it makes it fun because you need to be on your A-game every time you show up on track.”

Lundgaard added to Formula Scout he “would prefer that we do more superspeedways”, and it’s a topic Dixon has actually spoken to Formula Scout about too as he pointed out that Indy Nxt needs to race on big speedways too. It is not surprising that since the series went superspeedway-free in 2020, IndyCar’s top rookies have come from other areas of motorsport.

In addition to RLLR’s improvements since he joined, Lundgaard assesses his own growth as being “a lot smarter in terms of race smart, understanding the outcome of races early on, understanding how they pan out and these kind of things”.

“I don’t necessarily think my talent or what I’m capable of is any different than it’s always been,” he said. “I just think I’m able to extract more from what I have and not make silly mistakes. Just just being more complete.”

The last driver to graduate from the European single-seater scene into IndyCar and win a race was Carlos Huertas in 2014, albeit in controversial fashion, and Lundgaard is getting closer to proving it’s possible for it to happen again.

“I’ll definitely like to get rid of my moustache,” he said, referring to the dashing pit of facial hair he is growing until he stands on the top step of an IndyCar podium.

“Luckily, we have another Indy GP in August,” he added. “I had my first podium, I had my first pole there, so I might as well get my first win at the speedway. I really do think that we have that opportunity at that race.”