Christian Lundgaard

Christian Lundgaard was confident entering his first official day in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and he backed it up Friday on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course with a head-turning performance in preparation for Saturday’s Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix (12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN and the INDYCAR Radio Network).

The driver on summer break from the FIA Formula 2 Championship posted the seventh-fastest lap in Friday’s only practice – a 60-minute session – and then qualified fourth in Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Mi-Jack Honda. And he could have been quicker in qualifying as he thought INDYCAR was using its usual three-round knockout format – it went with two rounds due to the lateness of the day – so he was saving something for the Firestone Fast Six.

Still, the 20-year-old Dane was surprised to do so well despite having only one day of testing -- July 26 at Barber Motorsports Park -- and no track walk at IMS.

“Let’s just say I didn’t expect to be here now when I left home,” he said. “I know my family is asleep right now. I guess they will have a heart attack when they wake up in the morning.”

Lundgaard is a member of the Alpine Academy, a program created by Renault F1 in 2002 to support young drivers through their careers. He finished seventh in the FIA F2 Championship in 2020 with two wins for ART Grand Prix. He has two podium finishes so far this season, with a best result of second. He is 12th in the standings.

But he said he was “completely comfortable” after little more than a half-dozen laps at Barber.

Lundgaard compared this car to the F2 car, which is also built by Dallara, but he said “everything” about INDYCAR is different compared to European racing. It was at Barber where he first noticed how different pit road is in U.S. racing – wide and not in front of the team’s garage. And that was only the start of it.

“Nicknames, like pit in,” he said. “We call it pit entry, for example.”

In INDYCAR, Firestone’s alternate tires are called “reds.” In Europe, they’re “options.”

“These kind of things you need to understand,” Lundgaard said. “I’m starting to get there, but I’m sure there are going to be some bumps in the road.”

Then there’s the fact there were fans at IMS on Friday, and unlike in Europe where teams are secluded in garages, INDYCAR has fans mingling in the paddock. The pandemic has significantly reduced the numbers over the past year and a half.

“We’ve had one or two races this year in Formula 2 where we’ve had fans,” he said. “So, to come here and see so many people near us is just awesome.”

Saturday’s schedule includes a 30-minute practice at 8:45 a.m. (live coverage on Peacock Premium). The 85-lap race figures to be an adventure for Lundgaard, who has never experienced a rolling start in car racing.

Lundgaard also has never raced with these drivers. He thought the only driver he has crossed paths with is Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Sonax/Autogeek Chevrolet), whom he raced with in European karting.

Lundgaard isn’t ready to say he will pursue an INDYCAR path as VeeKay did, but anything could be on the table if Saturday’s race goes well for him.

“I think whatever the future brings, there is a lot of different options,” he said. “I’m not going to say this isn’t one of them; it definitely is. But there are also others.

“I think to come here to do this race, I think is a good thing for us for the future, to be able to decide. I would say looking at the results and from the performance today, it probably looks bright for the future.

“I’m here to explore.”