The driving force from Denmark was a thriller to IndyCar groups in 2021. He had everything of the paddock reaching for his or her telephones and asking Siri and Alexa, “Who the hell is Christian Lundgaard?”
These fundamental web searches revealed he was 20, drove for the ART Grand Prix Formulation 2 outfit, and received two F2 races in 2020 on the best way to putting seventh within the championship. In 2021, although, Lundgaard wasn’t trending upward. He was in Alpine’s F1 Academy, and but, his possibilities of reaching Formulation One had been fading.
By way of an outreach to the Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing IndyCar crew, an alternate path was mapped out for Lundgaard. He’d make a one-off look with RLL late within the 2021 season to check the waters on rerouting his profession by America. The child would get a shot on the Brickyard Grand Prix in Indianapolis.
What a shot he made.
Qualifying fourth, Lundgaard stole the present in time trials on the Indianapolis street course. Within the race, his inexperience with the Honda-powered Indy automotive and its Firestone tires proved troublesome, however he held on to complete twelfth. Behind him had been main IndyCar stars who’d amassed 12 championships and received seven Indianapolis 500s.
If a man they’d by no means heard of from F2, who wasn’t precisely drawing curiosity from F1 groups, may rock up and scare the daylights out of the IndyCar institution, who else was simmering beneath the floor in F2 that is likely to be deserving of a glance by American open-wheel groups? The solutions have been reasonably fascinating.
Heading into subsequent season’s IndyCar championship, an ever-growing variety of F2 graduates shall be on the grid, led by Lundgaard, who received his first race for RLL in July. In his sophomore IndyCar marketing campaign, Lundgaard sits eighth within the drivers’ standings getting into the ultimate race; he is immediately behind defending champion Will Energy and forward of names like Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean and properly away from teammate Graham Rahal.
England’s Callum Ilott, the previous Ferrari F1 driver academy standout who positioned second within the 2020 F2 championship, will proceed to guide the upstart Juncos Hollinger Racing crew. His shut pal, New Zealand’s Marcus Armstrong who additionally skilled within the Ferrari Academy, is main IndyCar’s Rookie of the Yr standings with new champions Chip Ganassi Racing. The Kiwi arrived on American shores after putting thirteenth in final season’s F2 championship on the power of three wins, and simply signed a multi-year deal to stick with Ganassi.
Swayed by the diamond it unearthed with Lundgaard, RLL is strongly contemplating dipping into the F2 driver properly as soon as extra because it refines its driver choices for 2024. Estonia’s Juri Vips, the previous Purple Bull F1 Junior Crew member, has been introduced in to run the final two rounds of 2023 and is more likely to be paired with Lundgaard and Rahal in 2024, which might carry the tally of F2-turned-IndyCar drivers to 4. And extra are on the quick lists held by IndyCar groups with vacant seats to fill.
The rise in curiosity for F2 drivers represents a significant shift for IndyCar groups.
The finer drivers on the European open-wheel ladder have at all times carried one vital drawback when in comparison with their counterparts on the American junior open-wheel ladder, and that is with their full lack of oval racing expertise. Given the possibility to choose between a F2 champion whose solely disciplines are street and road course racing, and a domestically skilled Indy Lights (now Indy NXT) champion who had the identical street and road schooling plus a strong basis of oval racing, the Lights driver historically obtained the nod.
That is altering, nevertheless, because the possession of IndyCar and Indy NXT moved to Penske Leisure in 2020.
— Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing (@RLLracing) July 17, 2023
The marquee Freedom 100 race, the place NXT drivers acquired their first likelihood to race and study on the identical Indianapolis Motor Speedway oval that hosts the Indy 500, was faraway from the calendar. Citing fears of a giant crash that may maim or kill younger drivers, the perfect NXT race of the season was erased, leaving two quick ovals — one on the 0.875-mile Iowa Speedway and the opposite on the 1.25-mile circuit on the outskirts of St. Louis — as the one locations to accumulate oval mileage earlier than making the leap to IndyCar.
With the large sequence operating on the two.5-mile Indianapolis oval and the daunting, high-banked 1.5-mile Texas Motor Speedway oval, the scarcity of widespread oval education for NXT drivers has IndyCar crew leaders viewing F2 abilities with new curiosity.
As the brand new pondering goes, a top quality F2 driver with F1 academy hyperlinks and no oval data is simply as coveted — if no more — than an analogous NXT driver who’s quick however lacking huge chunks of oval knowledge. In each cases, these drivers will face deep oval curriculums, so why not go for the one with the sterling pedigree?
“Those who’re coming over after being within the European system have built-in themselves rapidly, and in our case, thrive in our system,” Chip Ganassi Racing managing director Mike Hull advised ESPN. “We have come throughout fairly a number of who’ve been contained in the Formulation One younger driver packages with Ferrari and the others, and what they’ve in Formulation 2 is a automotive that’s like an Indy automotive in so some ways.
“The horsepower-to-weight ratio is extraordinarily shut, and so they do pit stops in Formulation 2, which is one other profit that immediately correlates to what drivers are requested to do in IndyCar. In case you’re capable of present properly in Formulation 2, there is no barrier to displaying properly right here.”
Arrow McLaren IndyCar star Pato O’Ward, who targeted his coaching in America and received the 2018 Indy NXT championship, misplaced his alternative to succeed in IndyCar in 2019 and located himself flying to Europe and Asia as a brief member of the Purple Bull Junior Driver household. He unexpectedly landed in F2 and the Japanese Tremendous Formulation sequence whereas looking for a racing house. By the point he discovered his approach again to IndyCar, the additions to his open-wheel schooling had been readily obvious.
“In F2, I did pit stops, and for my time in Indy NXT, there weren’t plenty of vehicles there, however the sequence has gotten lots larger and stronger now,” O’Ward mentioned. “However it could be nice in the event that they introduced pit stops into NXT as a result of the drivers who do F2 have a bonus that our drivers do not at present have. We did extra ovals after I was in NXT, so it was good for me and Colton [Herta] and the opposite guys who had been in it again within the day. We had been positively fortunate.”
For each Lundgaard, Ilott, Armstrong and Vips, you’ve gotten a Kyle Kirkwood.
The Floridian eschewed Europe, targeted solely on the American open-wheel ladder, and his abilities had been rewarded with three consecutive championships in USF2000, the following tier in Indy Professional 2000, and the highest step, Indy Lights, earlier than graduating to IndyCar in 2022 with the storied however underwhelming A.J. Foyt Racing crew.
Kirkwood confirmed promise at Foyt’s crew, however it was the decision to affix Andretti Autosport