Christian Lundgaard

Quiz time.

Name the three NTT INDYCAR SERIES drivers who won a series race last season and earned at least two NTT P1 Awards for being the fastest qualifier of an event.

Yes, series champion Alex Palou is one, and third-place finisher Scott McLaughlin is another.

The other?

Christian Lundgaard.

It shouldn’t be surprising that the 22-year-old Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing driver is on this short and exclusive list. He made his series debut in fast fashion, earning a starting spot on the second row for the 2021 Gallagher Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and leading a pair of laps.

The Danish driver backed up the debut with a pair of top-five finishes in his first full season in the series, in 2022, and last year he scored his first race victory, from the pole in the Honda Indy Toronto. Lundgaard’s other NTT P1 Award came on the IMS road course in May, and he also set the track record at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca in the second round of qualifying for the season-ending Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey. The previous mark had stood for 23 years.

Lundgaard led 74 laps in races last season, a figure that ranked 10th, and he finished eighth in the point standings. No other RLL driver was ahead of him at year’s end, and he was No. 1 among drivers not employed by Chip Ganassi Racing (two in the top seven), Team Penske (three) and Arrow McLaren (one).

Lundgaard also was one of four drivers to being running at the finish of all 17 races last season. The others: Palou, McLaughlin and two-time series champion Will Power.

Asked recently about the optimism and excitement building for the upcoming season, the driver of the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda wasted no time or words. “Absolutely,” he said.

The next question was about Lundgaard’s goals for 2024, and he was ready for that one, too.

“Obviously, I’ve set myself some goals now,” he said. “I’ve been established in the series for a couple of years, and we’ve had some good results. We have two poles. We have the win. We’re going to try to move into 2024 getting more of those.

“I think we know now that we have a strong road course package, and on occasion we showed (strength) at street circuit where we had our win in Toronto. The one thing that’s missing is the ovals.”

Lundgaard indeed lacked speed – and therefore results – last year on the ovals, and that was a team-wide struggle. Three RLL cars were among the four in the Last Row Shootout, and Graham Rahal was bumped from the field by then-teammate Jack Harvey. Lundgaard qualified 31st, one position behind another event teammate, Katherine Legge.

There were five oval races last season, and Lundgaard never qualified higher than 20th (twice) or finished better than 13th (in the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade at Iowa Speedway). He said that was the organization’s major point of emphasis during the offseason, something it hopes can take a big step forward with in 2024.

“Yes, we’ve got to be better on ovals,” he said. “I think that’s the obvious.”

Lundgaard said the team’s improvements can begin with its equipment, and he called that “Priority No. 1” of the offseason.

“Honestly, I think it all comes down to just having a fast enough car,” he said. “I’ve questioned myself a lot in terms of if it’s my performance that’s lacking or the team or the combination of those. And honestly, I think it’s a combination.

“The one thing I will say is looking at where Graham is on oval results, we are basically equal. So, in that sense, I at least can calm myself down on that.”

Lundgaard is encouraged by the fact Rahal is regarded as one of the NTT INDYCAR SERIES’ best drivers on ovals, so there is that experience to lean on.

Bottom line, ovals are the next step in Lundgaard’s development because he has shown to be elite at times on road courses and street circuits. Note that he led 54 of the 85 laps in last year’s race at Exhibition Place in Toronto. He also combined to lead 20 laps in the two races on the IMS road course.

Lundgaard also thinks a better start to the season will help his overall package. Last year he was 14th after three races and spent the remaining 14 races climbing to eighth with seven top-seven finishes.

“We didn’t quite start as we expected, and I think that put us on the back foot,” said Lundgaard, who noted that Rahal also had a strong second half of the season with two poles in the final four races. “But I think personally seeing how we were able to turn things around throughout the season indicates to me that we should be able to do it from season to season, as well.”

Said Rahal: “I think we finished the year quite strong … in the last nine races or so – (from) Toronto on – we had four poles as a team, which was pretty good. So, I feel like there is good momentum.”

If Lundgaard can put together a full season, he figures to again be on a short list – perhaps the one featuring the championship challengers come September.

The NTT INDYCAR SERIES season begins March 10 with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding.