Christian Lundgaard

There was no hiding the smile for Christian Lundgaard after the opening practice for the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on Friday at Barber Motorsports Park.

With good reason, as the 21-year-old Dane not only dodged a troubled session that featured three red flags, but he also ripped 20 laps – sixth-most – in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda with a best of 1 minute, 7.0200 seconds to end up sixth on the time sheets around the 2.3-mile, 17-turn natural terrain road course.

During the post-practice press conference, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver Lundgaard had the look of someone who felt a weight lifted off his shoulders – at least for the moment.

“We have not had a weekend this year, in my opinion, where we started the weekend off quick enough, just competitive enough, feeling great,” said Lundgaard, the 2022 NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year.

“I did today. I went straight out, and I felt great. Obviously, having had the test here helped. We were competitive there, as well. So, it means a lot now, but we got to keep that going into qualifying tomorrow.”

The test at the “Augusta National of motorsports” on March 14 featured 16 drivers and teams, including Lundgaard. He was third in unofficial pace, and despite conditions not being totally relatable, there was still enough to feel comfortable and get up to speed out of the box.

“I felt like the track was pretty good in the first run,” Lundgaard said. “It's so difficult because there's so many cars on track. Obviously, I feel like there were a lot less cars at the test, so there was more clear track.

“This is it. I always feel like everyone's talking about there's traffic. I could have done this lap if I didn't have traffic. I felt like the test translated quite well for us, at least. You were probably even better than you were at the test. I don't know.”

Lundgaard sits 14th in the championship standings, with his best performance through the opening three rounds coming at the season opener on the Streets of St. Petersburg, Florida. There he qualified 11th before capturing a ninth-place finish, which stands as his only top 10 so far the year.

Although one session on the weekend for Sunday’s 90-lap race (3 p.m. ET, NBC) is in the books, there is still a mystery as to what tire compound will be more heavily favored: the primary (black sidewall), or the alternate (red sidewall).

When Lundgaard was asked the question about tire choice, Meyer Shank Racing’s Simon Pagenaud, who ended up ninth in the No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda, was on hand and eager to hear Lundgaard’s response.

“Tell me everything you know,” said Pagenaud, smiling.

Lundgaard obliged, “To me it seems like there's more deg (degradation) on the blacks this year here.”

Lundgaard, smiling in response to Pagenaud, went on to add he only turned two laps on the alternate compound and hadn’t yet finalized an opinion one way or the other.

“There's going to be someone that's going to try one strategy and someone's going to try the other one, and one is going to be faster than the other one depending on how the yellows fall, in my opinion,” Lundgaard said.