Christian Lundgaard capped a resurgent Friday for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, winning his first career NTT P1 Award in qualifying for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Lundgaard turned a best lap of 1 minute, 9.3321 seconds in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda to become the first Danish driver to win an INDYCAR SERIES pole. He edged Felix Rosenqvist by 27 ten-thousandths of a second, as Rosenqvist will start second after a best lap of 1:09.3348 in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. It was the closest gap ever between the top two drivers in the Firestone Fast Six format.
“This 45 Hy-Vee Honda has just been fast all day,” Lundgaard said. “I was hoping for this, but I wasn’t quite expecting it, so it’s awesome to be here right now.”
Lundgaard’s previous best career qualifying performance was third as a rookie last season on the streets of Nashville. His best qualifying spot through the first four races of the season was sixth in late April at Barber Motorsports Park.
This was the first pole for Rahal Letterman Lanigan since Takuma Sato took the top spot in August 2020 on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval.
Lundgaard led all three RLL drivers in the top eight, as Jack Harvey will start fourth (1:09.4220) in the No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda and Graham Rahal eighth (1:09.4711) in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda.
It was a sudden and significant rebound for the team, as Lundgaard entered this race 12th, Rahal 16th and Harvey 23rd in the championship standings. The team’s best finish this season is sixth, by Lundgaard last month at Barber and by Rahal in March at the season opener at St. Petersburg.
“Now we have a shot at it (victory),” Lundgaard said. “We’re leading the field to green, so that’s where we want to be. So, we’ve just got to stay there for the rest of the race. Every time we come here to IMS, at least this way (road course), we’ve been quick. So, coming into this year, I was confident. The last time I drove on this track, I finished second. I was second in both practice sessions this morning, so I wanted to up it one, and I did.”
Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network.
Swedish driver Rosenqvist fell just short of earning his second NTT P1 Award of the season and first this year on a road course. But tight competition was the story of the day, as the margin of .2971 of a second between the top six was the fourth smallest in the history of the Firestone Fast Six format.
“It just came down to nailing a lap at the end,” Rosenqvist said. “I made a mistake, just a little wobble there. I just went for it – all or nothing. Big congrats to Christian. Scandinavian front row – that’s always cool.”
2021 series champion Alex Palou will start third after a best lap of 1:09.3780 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda, with Harvey next to him on Row 2. Pato O’Ward qualified fifth at 1:09.5422 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:09.6292 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
Championship leader Marcus Ericsson will start seventh, just missing the Firestone Fast Six in Round 2 with his best lap of 1:09.4419 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
While the rocket ride toward the top by RLL captured attention, another big story was the struggles of many of this season’s race winners and title contenders and past winners of this race and past season champions.
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden (starting 13th), 2022 GMR Grand Prix winner Colton Herta (starting 14th), 2023 Barber winner Scott McLaughlin (starting 16th), and Andretti Autosport’s top championship contender this season, Romain Grosjean (starting 18th), all were eliminated in the first round of qualifying.
Reigning series champion Will Power made it through to the second round but was eliminated in that session. He will start 12th in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet.