Linus Lundqvist didn’t just help himself with an impressive three-race stretch with Meyer Shank Racing in the recently completed NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, he did future INDY NXT by Firestone champions a huge solid, the reigning series champion said.
Christian Rasmussen said Lundqvist showed the value of giving the top INDY NXT by Firestone drivers a chance in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“I think for us in INDY NXT, it was awesome to see him jump into a car and do as well as he did right off the bat without a lot of time in the car and coming in late in the season,” Rasmussen said. “I think that proves to a lot of people that NXT champions are a force to be reckoned with, and hopefully that can open some eyes of some INDYCAR team owners that it might be a good option to choose a NXT champion.
“Hopefully that can get the ball rolling for a lot of us.”
Rasmussen recently tested with Ed Carpenter Racing’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES team at Barber Motorsports Park, and he is considered one of the top candidates to be paired with Rinus VeeKay as a full-time driver with Ed Carpenter’s team. But if Rasmussen isn’t selected by ECR and no other full-time opportunities become available, at least Lundqvist showed there is an alternative path to reach the ultimate goal.
Lundqvist didn’t get his NTT INDYCAR SERIES chance until the 13th race of the season, when he was tabbed to serve as Simon Pagenaud’s replacement at Meyer Shank Racing. But he quickly made the most of it. In his first race, the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville, Lundqvist ran as high as third and turned the fastest lap of the race, and he followed that with a strong performance on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in the Gallagher Grand Prix. He reached the second round of qualifying in both events.
As fate would have it, Lundqvist’s third chance this year in MSR’s No. 60 AutoNation/SiriusXM Honda was on a short oval in the Bommarito Automotive Group 500 at World Wide Technology Raceway. After another solid showing, Chip Ganassi Racing executives announced the signing of Lundqvist to a full-time ride for the 2024 season, where the 24-year-old Swede will drive alongside six-time series champion Scott Dixon, two-time and defending champion Alex Palou and this year’s Rookie of the Year, Marcus Armstrong.
Lundqvist wasn’t the only one celebrating.
“I think it was important to show that an INDY NXT champion is good, and he can compete and compete right away,” Rasmussen said. “That kind of shows you the level that INDY NXT is at these days, which is super important.”
Lundqvist will be one of four former INDY NXT by Firestone champions with a full-time NTT INDYCAR SERIES ride in 2024, and those drivers have combined to win 35 races at the sport’s highest level. Of course, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden has won 29 of those races, including this year’s Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge, but this year Kyle Kirkwood won two races with Andretti Autosport, and Pato O’Ward had four runner-up finishes and seven podium finishes in 2023 with Arrow McLaren. O’Ward is a four-time winner in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
Colton Herta (Andretti Autosport w/Curb-Agajanian), David Malukas (Arrow McLaren), VeeKay, Benjamin Pedersen (AJ Foyt Racing) and rookie Kyffin Simpson (Chip Ganassi Racing) are other recent INDY NXT by Firestone graduates with confirmed full-time rides in next year’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES.
“The Road to Indy (program) that I grew up with has been very good,” Malukas said. “INDY NXT being the (final) step – it’s a very good car, and it’s created a lot of talent … and it feels good that with Linus – I know he had to wait kind of a year – but he’s got a very good ride.”
Rasmussen won five INDY NXT by Firestone races this year, controlling the second half of the season en route to the title. He won four of the final seven races, all from the pole, and won by a season-high 65 points.
The 23-year-old Danish driver believes his performance in the INDY NXT by Firestone Outfront Showdown at World Wide Technology Raceway on Aug. 26 proved he deserved the series championship. He started on the pole and led the first 29 laps before getting bogged down in traffic and was passed by championship contender Hunter McElrea of Andretti Autosport. But Rasmussen didn’t let McElrea get away, and he regained the lead by passing McElrea five laps later. McElrea handily finished second in the standings.
“I didn’t panic, and when I got the opportunity I took it, made the pass and won the race from there,” Rasmussen said. “I think that was a really good point in the season. That opened up the last swing of the season that was really important for me.”
Now, Rasmussen must wait to see what ECR decides to do with its No. 20 BITNILE.com Chevrolet. In addition to Rasmussen, Oliver Askew, the 2019 INDY NXT by Firestone champion, also tested with the team last week at Barber Motorsports Park.
Rasmussen likely also has a couple of other possibilities to be in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES next season. He could be full time or part time, but at least there are multiple ways to take the next step, as Lundqvist showed this year.
“I think for everyone coming out of INDY NXT, they want to get a full-time ride the first year, and obviously if that’s not a possibility, then we’ll look at what other options we have,” Rasmussen said. “But that’s the goal we have right now, to first of all get a ride and then take it from there.”