RLL Assessing Lundgaard’s Potential For Third Full-Time Car
Bobby Rahal says that Christian Lundgaard’s IndyCar debut this weekend is part of the Rahal Letterman Lanigan team’s process in weighing up driver options for a third full-time entry in 2022.
On Monday it was confirmed that this weekend’s IndyCar race on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course – the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix – will see Lundgaard taking over the third #45 RLL-Honda in which Santino Ferrucci has competed in six of the 11 rounds so far this year.
Alpine Academy-supported driver Lundgaard tested the RLL car alongside Oliver Askew at Barber Motorsports Park two weeks ago, and says he doesn’t feel under pressure this weekend because he’s racing to enjoy himself and to help him assess his own options for 2022 [see below].
But RLL founder and co-owner Bobby Rahal says he’s expecting the 20-year-old Dane to show well this weekend, and is trying to gauge his potential as the team’s third full-time entry next year.
“After Christian was introduced to us, we agreed to do that test and he did a very good job,” Rahal told Motorsport.com. “I think everyone on the team was quite impressed with him, in and out of the cockpit. Actually, we were impressed with Oliver [Askew], too.
“Well, as you know we’re looking to run a third car next year – full-time, unlike this year – and we’re close. Close enough to be in a position to want to try out a few young guys and see how they stack up. We’ve done that in several races this year with Santino, and now, based on the Barber test, we thought we’d see what Christian can do.”
Rahal confirmed that he wasn’t interested in his third entry being occupied by one driver for ovals, another for road and street courses.
“Any driver who races for us has to be ready to run the ovals as well as the road and street courses,” he said. “I understand why some owners do that and split duties between two drivers in the one entry, but… no, we have to have drivers who are strong in all types of races.”
While Bobby’s son Graham Rahal remains on board for next year, his current teammate Takuma Sato’s contract expires at the end of this season and the two-time Indy 500 winner and his manager are known to be speaking to two other teams.
However, Sato could possibly remain at the squad co-owned by Bobby Rahal, David Letterman and Mike Lanigan, in which case the team may have already found its third driver for 2022. Although neither team owner nor driver are prepared to talk about the matter, it is believed – based on process of elimination – that Jack Harvey will be heading to RLL after four years at Meyer Shank Racing. The Briton ended contract renewal talks with MSR in July and revealed he was heading elsewhere within IndyCar.
Why Lundgaard? Why now?
Rahal says this weekend’s 12th round of the IndyCar season on the IMS road course offered the ideal opportunity to try out Lundgaard.
“For one thing, this race fitted in between his Formula 2 commitments [driving for ART GP],” said Rahal, “and secondly, Indy road course is a more FIA-type circuit that he’s used to in terms of track surface, curbs and so on.
“I’m not a big fan of the restricted track time, with everything packed into two days. But any driver worth his salt can learn a circuit pretty quickly. As a team owner, you don’t want a driver who needs three months of testing at a track to be quick. I think you should need only about 10 laps to start going fast.
“I mean, of course there are details to learn about the car and the track that will help you turn fast laps consistently, but I think we’ll be able to give Christian a good basic setup to work with. Our cars have been pretty quick on the Indy road course for the last several years, so I don’t think he’ll have to worry too much about that. The rest will be how he works with the team, changes he makes, what he sees is and isn’t possible when it comes to the detail setup.
“But like I say, he was very switched on at the Barber test so he’ll already have a handle on what can and can’t be done with this car and how much comes down to him just getting down to it and doing a good job in the cockpit.”
Lundgaard on IndyCar, F2, F1
Speaking to select media on Wednesday, Lundgaard said: “I think the dream and target remain the same… For myself, the dream has been to race in F1. But I’m extremely excited to have this opportunity and also to show what I can do in America in a different car, and expand what I can do to different people.”
Asked by Motorsport.com when he would need to pull the trigger on switching to IndyCar should he choose to do so, and whether it is himself or Alpine who will decide that, Lundgaard replied: “At the moment, it’s still too early to decide – definitely before the race! But I think having experience of the race and seeing how it panned out…
“Obviously I have the F2 season we need to finish, and it’s about exploring options. I’m still with Alpine at the moment, but at the same time we need to figure out what to do. When it will be decided, I honestly can’t tell you because I don’t know.
“It would be nice to have the future covered, but at the same time I would like to go out and enjoy myself and be sure that I perform the best I can.”
Lundgaard, who won two races in Formula 2 last year but has been struck by misfortunes including mechanical issues this season, said he was not setting expectations of himself this weekend despite feeling that “the test went extremely well, the pace was good and I liked the car.”
He said: “You can never be 100 percent prepared before you’ve done it, in terms of expectations and knowing what to do. I have a great team behind me, I have now the experience of driving the car.
“[But] I don’t have the experience of racing it, I don’t know how the different drivers race. I’ve seen most of the races this year, so for me to get to actually try it, I’m extremely looking forward to it.
“I think it will be very cool to try something different, because America’s very different from Europe and I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I’m super-excited to try it out…
“It’s about going out and enjoying the opportunity that I have gotten here. Just the test itself was an opportunity… But I’ve got so much to learn that I don’t really think that I can put any pressure on myself. It’s about learning and I’ll definitely go and enjoy myself.”
Regarding his chances of racing for a team other than RLL if he comes to the U.S., Lundgaard said, “It depends. I think there are options in Europe, options in America. There’s options everywhere. With the right amount of budget you can really do whatever you want.
“But it’s also up to us to decide what’s best, but again at this time I think it’s a bit too early to say. I would be happy to race whatever car that’s competitive, and I feel that Rahal Letterman Lanigan has a competitive car. I’m not even worried for this weekend. I think I have a package that can perform.
“Coming in, I don’t have any expectations on myself but at the same time that’s an advantage for me because I can come in and I don’t need to think about anything but drive…”
Should Lundgaard switch to IndyCar full-time, the matter of ovals, he said, was a “tricky question.”
“Obviously I have never driven an oval. Well, I have in a simulator – before I came here I did a few laps around Indy just for the fun of it.
“But it’s such a different world, it’s something we don’t have in Europe, so it’s something I’m not familiar with, but I think it’s definitely something I would like to try out at some point. At the moment it’s not my target.”
While there are F2 / IndyCar date clashes in the next couple of months, the penultimate IndyCar round at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca offers a potential second chance for Lundgaard to race an IndyCar. Again, the 20-year-old Dane is adopting a wait-and-see attitude.
“The opportunity’s always there, but obviously it depends on what the team wants to do,” he said. If they want me to drop by and come to an agreement and so on. And it also depends how this race goes, I guess. I can obviously say ‘Yes I want to drive later on,’ but if this race comes out being a nightmare for me…. A lot of things come in to decide. But I would be happy to have another go.”
While Formula 1 remains his ultimate goal, Lundgaard was generous in complimenting the NTT IndyCar Series.
“What I like about IndyCar itself is that it’s fairly similar to F2 but at the same time it’s a bit of mix of F2 and F1,” he explained. “It’s the big league but it’s the same cars. It’s a very competitive series, there is no power steering, the cars are physical to drive and it’s proper racing, where F1 I think we’ve seen over the past many years that it’s been mainly the same.
“I like the unpredictability . You’ve seen the race at Nashville with [Marcus] Ericsson going airborne at the beginning of the race and he ends up winning. Yes, you need some luck but it’s possible…
“I like the kind of racing that’s here. It’s different and you really have to fight for it and you push every lap, where in Europe it can potentially be a lot of tire management and strategy that needs to work out. Here it’s more up to the driver to make a difference and everyone races hard.
“I don’t want to say too much before I’ve actually done a race so I have my own experience but it’s a very competitive series, there are a lot of cars too, and it’s exciting to watch, so I’m super-excited to give it a try.”