Has anyone had a better month than Linus Lundqvist?
Thirty-one days ago, on July 31, the 24-year-old Swede was plucked from motorsport’s unemployment line to replace Simon Pagenaud in Meyer Shank Racing’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville. For Lundqvist, the street race was the audition he had longed for, a chance to show how his INDY NXT by Firestone championship had prepared him for the rigors of North America’s top open-wheel series.
Lundqvist passed the first test, posting the 11th-fastest lap of the weekend’s opening practice. The next day, he was again in that position in qualifying, and while the 80-lap main event didn’t go according to plan – he hit the Turn 11 wall late in the race – he showed considerable promise, posting the fastest lap among 27 drivers.
Two days later, Lundqvist was confirmed for an encore with MSR, and he was again impressive in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. For the second straight qualifying session, he advanced to the second round and then was steady in the race, and that led to another opportunity to drive. This time, it was on an oval, in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 presented by Axalta and Valvoline at World Wide Technology Raceway. Again, he turned the fastest lap in the race.
Three races, three different tracks, one big impression made.
Exactly a month after the MSR announcement came Thursday’s news from Chip Ganassi Racing: Lundqvist has signed with this season’s top team for 2024. And the icing of it, it’s a multiyear contract.
It’s a rags-to-riches story if there ever has been one.
“To be in this position, to be racing in INDYCAR with this team, yeah, my life has made a drastic change in the last couple of weeks,” Lundqvist said.
While Chip Ganassi’s team has yet to confirm its entire driver lineup for next season, it’s expected that Lundqvist will get to learn alongside six-time series champion Scott Dixon and Alex Palou, who is on the doorstep of his second title in three years. It’s also likely that Lundqvist will drive the team’s No. 8 car vacated by Marcus Ericsson, who has finished first and second in the past two Indianapolis 500s presented by Gainbridge.
Rookie platforms don’t get much better.
“It’s going to take a long time for my smile to fade,” Lundqvist said.
Lundqvist believes his meteoric is two-plus years in the making.
He arrived in the U.S. for the 2020 season and immediately found success in the Formula Regional Americas Championship. In the 17-race season, Lundqvist won 15 times, with David Malukas winning the other two races. In that time, Lundqvist began plotting his next move with an eye toward a future ride in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, and at one point or another he approached every team owner in the paddock.
Eight wins over two seasons in INDY NXT by Firestone led to last year’s season championship, but he wasn’t having much luck with finding a seat in the big cars. He came the closest with Dale Coyne Racing, but a ride there didn’t materialize.
There was considerable consternation in the sport over the INDY NXT by Firestone champion failing to land a ride, and Lundqvist said he had to fight the urge to get discouraged.
“Well, I’m not going to lie, I was bummed out, too,” he said. “I kind of sat at home asking myself, ‘OK, I’ve done everything that I possibly could, but we still haven’t had a chance. Am I going to give up?’
“I said, ‘No, that’s not me, that’s not who I am.’ So, I decided I’m going to do everything I possibly can to still try to remain in the game and give myself a shot and persevering and reminding people that you’re here for a reason. That helped. Then when I did get the opportunity (at Nashville), I think we did the most out of it.”
That’s when the winds of job talk shifted. Instead of dialing phone numbers, as he had been for months, he started answering his phone.
“Obviously, that kept on happening throughout Nashville and after (the Gallagher Grand Prix) and into Gateway, as well,” he said.
And now, Lundqvist has one of the best seats in the series, soon to be driving for a team whose 130 race wins and soon-to-be 15 season championships are second only to Team Penske.
“It’s unbelievable,” he said. “Still today I have difficulty to put into words how much this means.”
Lundqvist is in Portland this weekend, immersed with the Ganassi team, watching how its members work, sitting in engineering meetings, studying every detail offered. The learning process extends even to simple things like learning the names of people he will lean on when his turn comes.
Interestingly, Lundqvist and Ericsson, the home-country hero he long looked up to and now replaces, were on the flight out of Indianapolis together. They chatted.
“My life has done a 180 in only a couple of weeks,” Lundqvist said. “I know how this business works in the sense I knew the pressure and the opportunity that I had going into Nashville that if we were to perform, I was going to do myself and my career a huge favor.”
“But it’s the same the other way around. If I would have gone in and didn’t perform, that’s probably the end of my career. I knew the pressure that I had going into it, and I did everything I could to prepare myself for it and do the best job that we could.
“I think that is one of the bigger reasons that we sit here today.”
Sunday’s BITNILE.com Grand Prix of Portland, the penultimate race of the 2023 NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, airs live on NBC, Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network at 3 p.m. ET.