Christian Lundgaard earned the track record but not the pole Saturday at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, and the combination of occurrences left him disappointed.
The driver of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing’s No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda had posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s pre-qualifying practice and then turned a track-record lap of 1 minute, 6.4610 seconds in the second round of NTT P1 Award qualifying, but a mistake in the famous Corkscrew relegated him to the third starting position for Sunday’s Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey (2:30 p.m. ET, NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).
In that exhilarating drop of 450 feet from Turn 8 to Turn 9, Lundgaard ran inside a corner apex and off the track, which likely would have led to the lap being disallowed had it been his fastest. But, it was not.
“It’s frustrating,” Lundgaard said. “Obviously, seeing the optimal lap (fast enough for pole), it hurts.”
Lundgaard was bidding to win his third NTT P1 Award of the season, which would have led the series as this was the season’s final session. Instead, the top qualifying position went to Felix Rosenqvist (No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet) with Scott McLaughlin (No. 3 XPEL Team Penske Chevrolet) a blink behind.
“It’s tough for us,” Lundgaard said. “We knew we were fast all weekend, and I think that proved (it). … It wasn’t meant to be today. I just pushed too hard.
“I went for it, and it didn’t work, and I paid the price for it.”
Lundgaard’s other poles this season were earned in the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and the Honda Indy Toronto.
Backing Up Six Positions
Three drivers who delivered particularly strong qualifying results will start six positions deeper in the field due to their teams being penalized for unapproved engine changes.
Juri Vips, who is competing in just his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES race, qualified seventh in the No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, but he will start 13th. He qualified 18th in last week’s BITNILE.COM Grand Prix of Portland.
Vips missed advancing to the Firestone Fast Six by .0476 of a second.
“I knew it was going to be easier sort of coming into this weekend – I (haven’t) raced anything all year, so (Portland) was going to be a steep learning curve,” Vips said. “I think we managed that well, and as soon as I got in the car (here), I felt pretty comfortable.
“It’s just a shame to miss out (on the Firestone Fast Six) by such a small margin. I felt like the lap was pretty good. I made one small mistake, but I think what happened is that (another driver) backed off and it impeded my first lap. So, I started my first lap close to him.”
Santino Ferrucci reached the second round of qualifying for just the second time this season – he was 11th in qualifying for the Sonsio Grand Prix at Road America presented by AMR. But rather than starting 12th in the No. 14 AJ Foyt Racing/Sexton Properties Chevrolet, he will roll off 18th.
Rookie Agustin Canapino (No. 78 Juncos Hollinger Chevrolet) will be shuffled back from 13th to 19th. His previous best qualifying position was 18th in the Honda Indy Toronto.
Fast and Physical
With the repaving in May at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, speed isn’t the only thing that’s up – so is the physicality of driving the cars, driven by the increased G-loads and the number of corners featuring them.
“It will be the hardest (race) of the year, for sure, and it’s not even hot outside,” said Graham Rahal, who drives the No. 15 iPacket Honda of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. “I can’t imagine what next summer will be like.”
Next year’s race will move to a new date as the street race in Nashville becomes the season finale.
Honda vs. Chevrolet
The driver’s championship might be in the bag for Palou, but the engine manufacturer’s title will go to the wire.
Entering Sunday’s race, Honda holds a 16-point lead over Chevrolet.
The following Honda cars are still collecting points: Those driven by Marcus Ericsson, Rahal, Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean, Devlin DeFrancesco, Lundgaard and rookie Sting Ray Robb.
Chevrolet has Pato O’Ward, Rosenqvist, Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Ferrucci, Rinus VeeKay, rookie Benjamin Pedersen and Callum Ilott still scoring points.
Odds and Ends
- Team Penske is the winningest team in this series here. It has won six times.
- Alex Palou’s victory last year stands as the largest winner’s margin in series history at this track, 30.3812 seconds. The new series champion will start sixth Sunday in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda of Chip Ganassi Racing.
- The final practice in advance of Sunday’s race will be a 30-minute session at noon ET (Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).
- Andretti Autosport’s Hunter McElrea won Saturday’s INDY NXT by Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey from the pole, but Christian Rasmussen of HMD Motorsports with DCR finished second to effectively clinch the season championship. Rasmussen will win the title when he starts Sunday’s race (1 p.m. ET, Peacock, INDYCAR Radio Network).