Christian Lundgaard reaffirmed his status as one of the breakout stars of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season by leading the first practice Friday for the BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland at Portland International Raceway.
Lundgaard, from Denmark, was quickest with a top lap of 58.1776 seconds in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda fielded by Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. Lundgaard, in his second full season in the series, earned his first career victory in July at Toronto and is eighth in the standings with two races remaining after finishing 14th last season en route to Rookie of the Year honors.
SEE: Practice Results
“The 45 Hy-Vee Honda car is fast, but I think we knew that coming in here,” Lundgaard said. “It’s just nice to have it proven once again. We seem to be very strong on road courses, and I can’t think this team enough for the progress that we’re making on certain tracks.
“I’m a little disappointed in some of the performances we have, but it’s looking promising, and I think we’re there.”
Lundgaard, 22, has finished in the top nine in the last five road and street-course races, including the victory in the Honda Indy Toronto. The RLL team’s only stubbed toes this summer have come on ovals, where Lundgaard finished 20th and 13th, respectively, at the Iowa Speedway doubleheader in late July and 17th last Sunday at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Fellow young star Kyle Kirkwood was second at 58.3246 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda fielded by Andretti Autosport. Kirkwood, also in his second season like Lundgaard, has won two races this season, at Long Beach and Nashville.
Championship leader Alex Palou was third at 58.3555 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing. Palou, who leads teammate and closest pursuer Scott Dixon by 74 points, only needs to lead by 54 after this race to clinch his second title in the last three seasons.
Arrow McLaren drivers took the fourth and fifth spots on the time sheet in the 75-minute session, which was slowed by three red flags for minor incidents. Pato O’Ward was fourth at 58.4098 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet, while Felix Rosenqvist ended up fifth at 58.6428 in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
Dixon, the only driver who can catch Palou for the title, ended up 19th out of 27 drivers at 59.0457 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Up next is practice at noon ET Saturday, followed by NTT P1 Award qualifying at 3:30 p.m., with both sessions live on Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network. NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network will begin live coverage of the 110-lap race at 3 p.m. ET Sunday.