As Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires begins its 14-race season this weekend in St. Petersburg, Florida, one driver knows the sprint to the championship will be more of a marathon.
Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist rolled into last season confident that his racing background had him prepared to conquer Indy Lights, and he promptly finished first and second in the opening doubleheader at Barber Motorsports Park, qualifying on the front row for both races. Less than a month later, he was in victory lane at Indianapolis Motor Speedway after a road course win.
As the series points leader heading to the summer stretch, Lundqvist’s eyes were set on a championship. However, he later realized the finish line was miles ahead.
“I think that (strong start) took our expectations a little too high,” he said earlier this month in preparation for the 2022 season. “From the momentum from my career to winning the first race, we sort of expected to win every race, and then when we finished fourth or second, or whatever, we weren’t happy with it. We should have been more mature and realistic.”
Lundqvist, like the rest of last year’s Indy Lights field, got steamrolled by the train driven by Kyle Kirkwood and David Malukas, who combined to win 17 of the final 19 races. Kirkwood won 10 races and Malukas seven, and they were separated by just 13 points at year’s end. Both have moved up the NTT INDYCAR SERIES for the season that begins Sunday.
Lundqvist, a product of European formula cars and the 2020 champion of Formula Regional Americas Championship, realizes he did everything he could in 2021, winning the season-ending race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to finish third in the standings. He enters this season as the only driver to have won an Indy Lights race in 2021 – Matthew Brabham won one in 2014 – and is expected to be one of the leading contenders for this year’s title.
But this year, Lundqvist, who turns 23 in March, will take results more in stride.
“Take the wins when they come your way but take the seconds when you can’t get the win,” he said.
Familiarity should help Lundqvist. This will be his second season not only in Indy Lights but with HMD Motorsports. Last year, eight of the 10 venues were new to him, and the doubleheader at World Wide Technology Raceway was his first oval experience (he finished ninth and fourth).
In hindsight, even his initial Indy Lights test at Sebring International Raceway was an awakening.
“Those two days I was a little bit lost, a little bit confused,” Lundqvist said. “The car was so different than any car I had driven before. It took a lot of time to get used to it and to know everyone on the team.
“It feels good to come back to a car I know this year and people that I know and like. I feel a lot more relaxed going into the season, but at the same time the target is the same: Win races and win the championship. It’s just now I’m starting from a higher level.”
This year’s Indy Lights field is comprised of drivers representing five teams and eight nationalities. Brabham is the most seasoned, having competed in 17 series races in 2014 and 2015 before making two INDYCAR starts in 2016, including the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.
Brabham will be part of a four-man Andretti Autosport lineup that includes 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion Sting Ray Robb, who finished eighth in Indy Lights last year, USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 champion Christian Rasmussen and Hunter McElrea, who like Rasmussen is an Indy Lights newcomer.
Lundqvist’s teammates include Benjamin Pedersen, Danial Frost, Christian Bogle and Manuel Sulaiman. Pedersen and Frost finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in Indy Lights last season, combining for 10 podium finishes. Bogle is also back in the series for a second season. Sulaiman competed in the final six Indy Lights races last season with HMD.
Kyffin Simpson and James Roe are driving for TJ Speed Motorsports, which, as an organization, is new to Indy Lights, although team owner Tim Neff was a central figure in five series championships with Sam Schmidt Motorsports and he has engineered cars for several INDYCAR drivers.
Force Indy’s Ernie Francis Jr., a seven-time Trans Am Series champion, and Abel Motorsports’ Jacob Abel are also new to the series. Antonio Serravalle, who drove part-time last year, joins Abel at St. Petersburg.
Indy Lights will open its second Friday with two practices and qualifying on St. Petersburg’s 1.8-mile, 14-turn downtown street circuit. Qualifying is set for 1:40 p.m. (ET) Friday. The season-opening race is at 9:30 a.m. Sunday.
All on-track action during the season can be viewed on Peacock, NBC Sports’ streaming service.