Lundgaard: Move to IndyCar is about “What’s most exciting?”

Christian Lundgaard says that joining Rahal Letterman Lanigan IndyCar team is about pursuing enjoyment and excitement in his motorsport career – but admits he hasn’t given up on the F1 dream.

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It was confirmed today that the Formula 2 driver from Denmark will join Graham Rahal and Jack Harvey as the third full-timer in the RLL-Honda team in what’s described as a multi-year agreement. The Alpine Academy driver made a huge impression on his IndyCar debut on the IMS road course in August by qualifying fourth.

With Formula 1 not an option for 2022, and Alpine announcing it will be joining WEC with an LMDh Prototype but not until 2024, Lundgaard’s options in Europe for next season appeared limited. However, he insists that the move to IndyCar was not simply a case of him killing time.

“For me it's always what's the most exciting for me,” said the 20-year-old from Hedenstead, Denmark. “Where do I feel the most comfortable? Where will I enjoy whatever I'm doing the most?

“In the end it actually came down to what do I personally want and what will I enjoy, and for me when I did the race over here, that's what I enjoyed the most. I haven't enjoyed a race weekend as much as that one for years – except obviously when you have a very good weekend in whatever you're doing and you are winning and dominating!

“But to come in for one race weekend and enjoy it that much surprised me. So from there on, that's what I personally wanted to go to, and in the end we made that work, so I'm happy that we're here now. Thanks to Bobby [Rahal, founder and co-owner of RLL] and the rest of the team.”

On the subject of whether he saw IndyCar as an end in itself or a stepping-stone to Formula 1, Lundgaard replied: “I think Pato [O’Ward] has proven this year that there is always a chance for F1. My dream as a European has always been to go to F1, but we also know that there are 20 cars, and there's 20 drivers. If they perform to the level that the team wants, they've still got the seat and so on.

“So it's very difficult for the younger drivers to come in without the proper funding, without the proper results. It's all about timing. You look at this year, for example, I'm still a part of the Alpine Academy for the remaining of 2021. And we look at Oscar [Piastri], he's leading the championship, and what is he going to do for next year? The seats are taken.

“For me to come over here and to prove what I can do, and continue, you know, it's not just for one single year. We can keep on building, and then maybe in four or five years if the time is right and the space is there, if that's what it's going to be, then that's what it's going to be.

“For me it's always about winning what I'm doing and then we take it from there. I came into 2021 expecting to win the championship and it didn't go that way; now I'm coming here and I've got a fresh start, and then I'll take it from there. But I'm very confident that I'm at the right place with RLL, that's for sure.”

“I spoke to some drivers a few days ago that's been in IndyCar and they say, here, you come, you enjoy, you like driving… When you begin in Europe, you have … let's say, the proper feeling of racing that you enjoy, but the more you do it, you kind of die. The spirit dies. Where for me over here it just continues.

“That's what I had when I came for the race in August – that this is just so different. It's a complete new spark that just fired in me, and I wanted to continue with that. I think it will. I'm pretty sure it will. IndyCar is the place to be, and I'm perfectly happy with where I am with RLL.”

Lundgaard went on to explain that the variety of tracks on the IndyCar schedule is one of its most appealing factors, but also the fact that the cars are so similar. He cited Romain Grosjean as a prime example of a European driver as finding a new lease of life in U.S. open-wheel racing, after seasons spent near the back of the F1 grid wrestling with the recalcitrant Haas cars.

“I never doubted that he was a good driver even in F1 because I know Kevin [Magnussen] as well and he was his teammate and they were fighting each other because that's the only thing they could do,” said Lundgaard. “Over here everyone fights everyone. Everyone has an opportunity to win. That's what racing stands for.

“So for me to come over here, I know once I jump in the car I've got an opportunity to win no matter which track I'm at, and that's what racing is, and that's why I'm here.”

Rahal’s perspective

Bobby Rahal, who founded his team in 1992 – and promptly won his third Indy car title – said that hiring Lundgaard for RLL’s new third full-time entry would boost the team but that the newcomer’s teammates Rahal and Harvey would also benefit the Dane as a driver.

“I think there's a couple reasons why it's a positive for us. One is that Christian brings kind of a different, new look. Graham and Jack have been in IndyCar now for a number of years; now you've got somebody who's really not been in it but maybe their approach or their feel for the car can be a little bit different, can maybe bring up some new ideas to try for the other guys and vice versa.

“Clearly, especially on ovals, I think Christian is going to benefit from having Jack and Graham, because they've been very competitive on the ovals. That's going to help him in that respect.

“But in addition, rookies get extra test days, and we saw the benefit of that with Colton Herta a few years ago. We saw it with Jack. You see it with a number of drivers…. They were with great teams and they were really able to use those extra days to greatly benefit the team. That's a big plus, I think, that we're looking forward to having on our side.

“It's not just how fast you are on the track, it's how you work within the team, obviously the sponsors, you name it. Christian impressed us on all those fronts. We're very pleased, and I think having him on board is going to be just a good thing for us as a whole.”

The senior engineering line-up at RLL has not yet been defined, other than Allen McDonald remaining as race engineer on Graham Rahal’s #15 car. Asked if there’s a specific quality a race engineer needs for working with a rookie full-timer – RLL’s first since Jeff Simmons in 2006 – Rahal said it came down to experience.

“Of course Allen has a tremendous amount of experience, Eddie Jones, tremendous amount of experience. For a guy like Christian, I think it probably it would be a big benefit. We haven't yet determined who other than Graham with Allen because they've been together now for four years or so.

“But these guys work closely together. They don't go off and hide in their own corners and not talk to each other. Clearly for a guy like Christian, having somebody who's got a lot of experience that can kind of coach, that can share his experiences over time, there's I think a confidence level that a driver gets from that, versus being with a new engineer.

“We've seen that in the drivers you've mentioned. Danica [Patrick], for example. She came in and had a very good engineer, had very, very good teammates in Buddy Rice and Vitor Meira and she was really able to frankly come to grips with ovals a lot quicker than if she had been out there by herself. This is a similar situation for Christian.

“The whole idea is this team works together, and the goal is to have three shots at winning every race, and the only way we can do that is if we all work closely together.”

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