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Podcast: Catching up with Indy Lights leader Linus Lundqvist

by Ida Wood

Photo: Joe Skibinski

Two Swedes have made headlines in IndyCar this year with their results and 2023 plans, and Linus Lundqvist has been doing the same in the supporting Indy Lights series. Formula Scout caught up with the 23-year-old

Between the Music City Grand Prix and this week’s Gateway oval test, Formula Scout was able to speak to HMD Motorsports driver and Indy Lights points leader Linus Lundqvist.

The Swede is in his eighth season of single-seater racing, although he’s carried enough momentum through his career to still feel like a fresh talent coming up the ranks. After two years in Formula Renault 1.6 on home soil he moved into British Formula 4, winning five races, then with the same Double R Racing team he graduated to BRDC British Formula 3 and became champion in some style with seven wins. The relationship with Double R continued into Euroformula, and he claimed three podiums in continental F3.

The plan was to then move across to the FIA F3 Championship, but then Honda Performance Development announced a scholarship for the champion of the Formula Regional Americas series to step up into Indy Lights.

“I got in touch with Christian Pedersen, team boss at Global Racing Group, we chatted on the phone for a little bit and I said ‘OK, I might be able to have like half a budget to do half the year’,” Lundqvist recalls.

“And he said ‘alright, well come over, we’ll see how it goes, and take it from there’. And it was because I didn’t really have any other options. So went over there, did half a season, we won the first eight races and then I was able to manage to find an extra bit of funding and with some help from Christian as well to continue the year. We won the year and then I was able to do Lights last year because of the scholarship. It’s mostly down to the scholarships to where I am today.”

As Lundqvist went looking for an Indy Lights seat with his scholarship money, GRG also looked at moving into the series and the end outcome was the two parties stayed together as they joined the Road to Indy for 2021.

Photo: Formula Regional Americas

“[GRG] wanted to move on to Indy Lights, they kind of realised that doing it by themselves was going to be difficult, so they partnered up with HMD who turned out to be one of two top teams in Indy Lights together with Andretti Autosport. And then it sort of merged into more or less an HMD team. With GRG supporting a little bit with some engineers etc, but it was more or less a HMD team in the way it was ran and it was operating from the same facility here in Indianapolis, which is HMD’s base. And then this year it’s HMD with Dale Coyne Racing in partnership.”

Race-winning IndyCar team Dale Coyne partnered with HMD this year after the latter’s long-time driver David Malukas joined its IndyCar line-up, and the tie-up means there’s already a link for Lundqvist to pursue in 2023. But there’d have to be a vacancy for him to step into, and without a guarantee of that he’s been knocking on the motorhome door of every team in the paddock.

“I have to. I even did to a certain extent last year. Trying to talk to as many teams as you possibly can, to read what the situation is and where an opportunity might come up, and building relationships and see what we can do for next year. That’s all you can do at this time. The scholarship and the championship would be very important for me going forward, so I know that I have to establish enough relationships, and then I need to focus on winning and hopefully we can land ourself in a good position next year.”

Lundqvist has had one experience of an IndyCar, as last year’s top three in Lights were given a test day on Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course. Andretti’s Kyle Kirkwood was champion in 2021, ahead of Malukas and Lundqvist.

“It was awesome,” Lundqvist glows. “Still today probably the best day of my life. You work so hard your whole life to reach that level. And to have that become a reality, it was awesome. I was speaking to as many people as I possible could beforehand to prepare myself a little bit, but nothing could prepare me for that. The first lap was just pure joy on my smile. I came on the radio and was just screaming with happiness. I’m like ‘ahh, this is so cool’.

The first open-wheeler that Lundqvist drove in the USA was the Crawford JS F3 in FRegional, and it “definitely suited” the newcomer’s driving style.

Photo: Chris Owens

“It was almost like to be fast you have to be a little bit slow. Everything was about focusing on the exit,” Lundqvist explains.

“Because the car was quite heavy, but it still made decent power for the amount of downforce that it had, so minimum speed wasn’t as important as hitting your apex and get a good exit. That’s kind of my driving style usually, just precise and smooth.

“But then jumping into the Lights car, it was a complete 180° for me. The most challenging car that I’ve ever experienced. Very, very different to any other car that I’ve tried. So it took some time to get used to, especially throughout that first year, and it was good to have someone like David [Malukas] on the team as well because he was very comfortable having done a year already and some testing.

“I learned quite a lot from him, and especially at the beginning just being comfortable being over the limit. In the Lights car, you have to be over the limit to be fast, while in every other car that I’ve been in, you have to be a little bit under the limit to be fast. Last year the Cooper tyre, it likes surface temperature. So almost like the more sliding you do, the more grip you’ll have, to a certain extent obviously. It was things like that, it had to become normal for me and I had to be comfortable with that. And even today, some races and tests, I still have to keep reminding myself that I can’t just relax and go back to my old ways, I still have to actively think about it to make sure we really are pushing and really are on the limit every time.”

Lundqvist estimates he had six test days in the car before his 2021 debut, and he had only raced on two of the series’ nine tracks before. But the learning curve was swift as Lundqvist won the series opener, Indy Lights’ first race back after its 2020 hiatus, at Barber Motorsports Park.

“It was great that we won the first race, but that maybe set a little bit of a false preset, both for me and my engineer and my mechanics. We kind of expected ‘alright, we’re going to win a race very weekend’, and if we finished fourth or fifth then we were super disappointed. But in reality, fourth or fifth was actually a decent result for a rookie.

Photo: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

“In the middle of the season we had to change our mindset a little bit and actually be super proud of the job that we did in 2021. We were still able to be in the fight for the championship up until Gateway when I had the tyre blowout. Going into that round I was 25 points behind, and then leaving the weekend I was 59 points behind. That was a harsh blow to our title hunt. But still, we were able to finish third [in the points]. I mean you look at David and Kyle in IndyCar right now, they’re not doing too bad. It’s nice to see that I was able to mix it up [with them].”

At the time, Lundqvist said the resulting crash from the blowout was “probably the hardest hit of my career”. The race format was adjusted to prevent further blowouts, but having been in a position to win on his first oval visit, Lundqvist left frustrated.

“I was so proud of the race that we did up until that point. We started fourth, and I was running second [before the tyre went]. Keeping up pace with David in front and Kyle behind. I was super happy and proud of coming home second in my first ever oval race, and then for it to end like that was hurting. Not only physically, when you got the bill for the crash afterwards, but more so just for results.”

Between that August weekend on the smooth Gateway track and last month’s race at the very bumpy Iowa Speedway, the first oval race of the 2022 season, there was only one test on an oval for drivers to be confident tyres wouldn’t fail again.

“For us, we don’t really have the luxury to feel rusty [returning to an oval]. It’s just about getting down to business. It was a new experience because nobody has been to Iowa in a couple of years. So it was kind of fun, and a good challenge for the team as well because the set-up that we showed up with on the test that we had there, is vastly different to how we ended.”

Lundqvist won on the road at Iowa, but contact with Matthew Brabham as they fought for the lead led to a post-race penalty that dropped him to fourth. He rebounded in Nashville last weekend with a seven-second victory from pole as his points lead meant he got to start from the front following the cancellation of qualifying due to rain.

Photo: Penske Entertainment / James Black

“If qualifying had gone ahead as per normal, we definitely [could have taken pole]. Our team was probably the one that lost out the most [as team-mate Benjamin Pedersen comfortably topped the practice sessions].

“I was speaking to my engineer, and as I said to him: we fought all year to be in this position if something like this happens, that we earned ourself to be on pole. But I think also a qualifying lap around that place would have been so much fun. Hopefully I can be back next year in an IndyCar and do it properly.”

The season’s remaining rounds are at Gateway, Portland and Laguna Seca. Lundqvist is confident of HMD’s pace at the first two, but Andretti driver Kyle Kirkwood’s ever-dominant form at that track last year means Lundqvist has a “question mark” over how competitive he will be at the season finale venue.

“You’ve seen it this year, it’s so close between us and Andretti. It’s coming down to on the day who gets the right set-up or who puts in the perfect lap to be that tenth of a second ahead of a competitor.”

Lundqvist is aiming to join compatriots Marcus Ericsson (Chip Ganassi Racing) and Felix Rosenqvist (McLaren Schmidt Peterson) in IndyCar next year, although Rosenqvist’s contractual situation may mean he goes elsewhere, and the trio are establishing a Swedish energy in the paddock – helped particularly by Ericsson’s Indianapolis 500 win.

“Me, Felix and Marcus speak. We celebrated midsummer last year together,” reveals Lundqvist.

“There’s not many Swedes around here, so if you find one you usually try to practice a little bit of Swedish so you don’t lose it. I do see more Swedish flags on the track, which is awesome. I’d say all of them are there to see Felix and Marcus, but when they see another Swede doing well in Lights they come to the podium and they come chat to you which is great fun. And hopefully they can have a third one next year to cheer on.”

Photo: IndyCar / Matt Fraver

Indy Lights finishes unusually early compared to other single-seater series, with Lundqvist’s racing done for the year by this time next month, and (if he leaves it really last-minute) there’s then almost half a year he has to find a 2023 IndyCar seat and most likely a Daytona 24 Hours berth for next January too to get crucial fuel-saving, pitstop and endurance practice in.

Listen to our full chat with Linus on this week’s podcast, which you can listen to below or on Breaker, Google Podcasts, Overcast, Pocket Casts, RadioPublic, Castbox, Apple Podcasts and Spotify.