Christian Lundgaard’s maiden full-time season provided a proper introduction to the challenging world of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES. He embraced the opportunity, though, capturing seven top-10 finishes, including two top fives and a career-best runner-up result (Gallagher Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course), en route to Rookie of the Year honors.
Now, the 21-year-old Danish driver readies for more behind the wheel of the No. 45 Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing Honda entering Year Two.
INDYCAR.com’s Joey Barnes spoke with Lundgaard to discuss recent adventures and gearing up for his second full-time season in 2023.
Q: I saw you were recently in Los Angeles. What were you up to out there?
Lundgaard: First of all, it was probably one of the coolest things I've ever done and probably ever will. I was there with INDYCAR and CW for our new “100 Days to Indy” show that's coming out throughout this season and just talk to some reporters and represent that show that's going to come out. It was a great experience for me to meet some of the best actors in the world. Not the weekend I was expecting to have. It's cool to do it two days after flying back into the States after having spent my holidays at home in Denmark. So, it is cool to meet the CEO (Perry Sook) and the president (Brad Schwartz) of CW and all that and try to help spread awareness about this show that we're trying to create this season.
I've always had this opinion about being starstruck, that is we're all human beings. We have different talents, different jobs and et cetera. We were sat at the table right next to all the “Top Gun” actors, and I mean, I watched “Top Gun” in the cinema before our Iowa test last year. The night before we were testing, I was in the cinema watching “Top Gun: Maverick.” For me, to sit there and basically speak to those actors, they're human beings. We were just having a casual conversation about life, how the sets for their movies have been. Some of them knew a little bit about INDYCAR, been to some races before. It's just cool to see how these people can also be down to earth, them being on home ground at a film awards and me being the little guy that was there.
Q: What did you do during the offseason?
Lundgaard: It's actually been a very boring offseason for me because I moved to the States in December 2021, and I didn't go home until September after the season. I was in the States throughout the whole season. To go home, it was kind of in the period where all my friends were still working before their winter holidays. So, there was a lot of sitting around because I didn't really have anything specific to do but have fun with my friends and just chill out and see what time brought. Obviously, there's been a lot of working out to prepare for the season. Just trying to put myself ahead so I don't really need to keep it that consistent throughout the season. So, that's pretty much what most of my winter has been spent on.
Q: Now that you’ve completed your first full-time season in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, what’s your comfort level entering Year Two?
Lundgaard: It's a tough question because I think everyone on the whole grid team, driver, engineers, et cetera, I think everyone would say that, 'Oh, yeah, we've learned so much throughout the winter season.' But I think you can't really tell until you've been on track for the first time. I'm looking extremely forward for Thermal in a couple of weeks where we finally get to get let loose and see where we are at. But I feel like we have a good feeling. Personally, I have a pretty good feeling now I know what INDYCAR is all about, been to all the tracks, experienced all the events. So, I feel like 2022 has been a long learning journey, but a good one, as well. You only have one shot at the rookie title, got that. Now, it's time to show yourself on the big stage. In terms of my own expectations, I think that is the only expectation.
Q: Where do you feel like you need to improve the most?
Lundgaard: One is pretty obvious: Ovals, for sure. Put in quite a lot of work from my own side, not necessarily data, analysis, but more just understanding where and what I did wrong in 2022. We didn't have a very strong oval car in 2022, so I think from a team's perspective we also need to improve that. I know we have. The only question is how much have we really improved? Coming in from the European culture, not doing ovals and being thrown at it straight in basically in the second race of the season at Texas, which will be again this year, for me just to understand and have a car beneath me where I trust the car. That's what's really tough. I have a lot of the European drivers that ask me, ‘How are the ovals?’ And the only example I can think of is Monza in Italy. It's basically like going down the street and then by the time you would brake into Turn 1, you just turn hard left. I think for people that have driven at Monza, that's kind of an eye-opener how crazy ovals really are. You really got to believe and trust the car, trust the equipment and the mechanics behind you.
Q: Now that you've shaken off the rookie status, do you feel like you're in more of a situation to take on a leadership role within the team?
Lundgaard: I think that's a great question because last year I felt like I had pretty big responsibility, and I think the team has also allowed me to have that responsibility just because of the early-on performance and things adding up with comments and what the data says. With my F1 experience with Alpine, I have a lot of experience within some areas that probably the team is lagging. So, in that aspect, they lean a lot on what I say and vice versa. I mean, I'm new to ovals, so I can only take in what they say and learn from it. But I feel like we have a pretty good relationship. I'm very happy with where I am. The team has treated me very well. I think it's pretty obvious that Graham is lacking on qualifying pace, but he's extremely strong in the races. And if I can help the team bring the car in a window for him, as well, for qualifying circumstances, we will have a very, very strong package. But again, we need to be consistent and do that across all 17 races.