There could be only one winner in Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, and that wasn’t pole sitter Christian Lundgaard. But the 21-year-old Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver accepted the two-day showing as a winning one in a still-young career.
From winning his first NTT P1 Award on Friday to leading the second-highest number of laps in Saturday’s race to finishing a season-best fourth, well, this was good, and Lundgaard knew it.
“The No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda has been great all weekend,” he said after the 85-lap race ended. “It wasn’t as good today, unfortunately, but to come home fourth – there was a point when I didn’t think we were going to finish in the top 10.
“We need to look at it from the perspective-wise that we were (good) all weekend. We’ll move on.”
Lundgaard faded in the late going due to an ill-handling car, but he was able to soldier on to record his sixth top-10 finish in the past 10 races dating to last year’s runner-up finish in the Gallagher Grand Prix on this same circuit.
The Dane not only drove like a driver on the rise, he showed maturity beyond his years in leading a team that had its best three-car weekend since Danica Patrick, Vitor Meira and Buddy Rice qualified in the top 10 in a 2005 race at Kentucky Speedway.
Teammates Jack Harvey (No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda) and Graham Rahal (No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda) qualified fourth and eighth, adding to the team’s strong weekend. Rahal finished 10th in the race, his best result since finishing sixth in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.
Harvey started the race well before overcooking a Firestone front tire under braking on the restart on Lap 6. Pitting for new tires pushed him deep in the pack, and he finished 20th.
Still, it was a good weekend for the team owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan, and the race they won with Takuma Sato in 2020 awaits. Practice for the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge begins Tuesday on the IMS oval.
Power Spins, Kirkwood Penalized
There were several close calls and tight battles in the road course’s corners, and the most dramatic was Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) and Kyle Kirkwood (No. 27 AutoNation Honda) fighting for the same piece of real estate in Turn 1 of Lap 7.
Power appeared to push Kirkwood to the grass on the left side of the track, and the two cars made contact as Kirkwood tried to re-enter the racing line several yards later.
Power’s car spun, and Kirkwood was penalized for avoidable contact. Kirkwood was required to drop behind Power, which cost him seven positions (from 16th to 23rd) and significant track time.
“You need to clear on those ones,” Power told his team on the radio. “I had no idea that he was still there. If you’d said he was still there, it wouldn’t have happened.”
The crew apologized.
Kirkwood wasn’t happy, saying Power “took us off the track.”
Oh, Those Teammates
Dale Coyne Racing’s weekend didn’t end as hoped.
It was only Lap 2 when David Malukas (No. 18 HMD Trucking Honda) was in front of rookie teammate Sting Ray Robb (No 51 biohaven Honda) approaching Turn 7.
Malukas appeared to be clear of any trouble, but Robb was locked in a side-by-side duel with Romain Grosjean (No. 28 DNSFilter/DHL Honda), and the fact is both were hauling the mail into the left-hand corner at the end of the back straightaway.
As Malukas said after watching the television replay, “They were coming way too quick.”
Grosjean had room to his right to bail out, but Robb had no escape. His car hit Malukas’ rear, knocking them both from the race.
“Even if I wasn’t there, (Robb) was going to go flying with Grosjean,” Malukas said.
Malukas finished 26th, Robb 27th in the 27-car field.
“Rule No. 1 in racing, don’t make contact with your teammate, and that’s on me today,” Robb said. “If any of the factors were different, it probably would have been a different scenario, but we have both cars parked in the garage and the race is still going on. I’m super sorry to the team.”
Odds and Ends
- Meyer Shank Racing’s difficult weekend continued Saturday with Helio Castroneves spinning the No. 06 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda into the gravel trap late in the morning pre-race practice and Simon Pagenaud’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda coming to a stop on pit road in the race with a wheel lug nut issue the team couldn’t immediately identify.
- On the same pit stop sequence as Pagenaud, Santino Ferrucci (No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet) also saw his car come to a stop on pit road missing a wheel lug nut.
- Rookie Benjamin Pedersen (No. 55 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet) received the black flag just after the start of the race for a safety violation – his radio wasn’t functioning. Repairs cost him four laps to the leaders.
- The race had a mixture of heat and humidity, but second-place finisher Pato O’Ward said he had no issue in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. “I don’t spend all those days in the gym to be struggling,” he said.
- Matteo Nannini won Saturday’s INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix, the first of his career, by holding off fellow series rookie Louis Foster. Nannini gave Juncos Hollinger Racing its first win in the series since September 2019 when Rinus VeeKay swept the two races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
- The INDY NXT victory by Juncos Hollinger Racing was the first for a team other than HMD Motorsports (or affiliated teams) or Andretti Autosport since VeeKay’s sweep. The season was canceled in 2020 due to the pandemic.
- Saturday’s pre-race flyover was performed by the 114th Fighter Wing, South Dakota Air National Guard. More than 100,000 Airmen serve in the Air National Guard across 54 states and territories.