If you’re in Central Indiana and fancy an easy but exciting day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, today’s Indy GP is the event for you. With most of the cars and drivers but none of the hassles of the world’s largest single day sporting event—the Indy 500—the GP and it’s support races make for a great day of roaming the grounds and taking in many vantage points of what promises to be an intense competition. And if not in the area, TV and IndyCar radio (live online, satellite, and Mixlr) are the next best things.
Christian Lundgaard capped a resurgent Friday for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, winning his first career NTT P1 Award in qualifying for the GMR Grand Prix on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course.
Lundgaard turned a best lap of 1 minute, 9.3321 seconds in the No. 45 Hy-Vee Honda to become the first Danish driver to win an IndyCar series pole. He edged fellow Scandinavian Felix Rosenqvist by 27 ten-thousandths of a second, as Rosenqvist will start second after a best lap of 1:09.3348 in the No. 6 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. It was the closest gap ever between the top two drivers in the Firestone Fast Six format.
“This 45 Hy-Vee Honda has just been fast all day,” Lundgaard said. “I was hoping for this, but I wasn’t quite expecting it, so it’s awesome to be here right now.”
Lundgaard’s previous best career qualifying performance was third as a rookie last season on the streets of Nashville. His best qualifying spot through the first four races of the season was sixth in late April at Barber Motorsports Park.
This was the first pole for Rahal Letterman Lanigan since Takuma Sato took the top spot in August 2020 on the World Wide Technology Raceway oval at Gateway.
Lundgaard led all three RLL drivers in the top eight, as Jack Harvey will start fourth (1:09.4220) in the No. 30 Kustom Entertainment Honda and Graham Rahal eighth (1:09.4711) in the No. 15 Fifth Third Bank Honda.
It was a sudden and significant rebound for the team, as Lundgaard entered this race 12th, Rahal 16th and Harvey 23rd in the championship standings. The team’s best finish this season is sixth, by Lundgaard last month at Barber and by Rahal in March at the season opener at St. Petersburg.
“Now we have a shot at it (victory),” Lundgaard said. “We’re leading the field to green, so that’s where we want to be. So, we’ve just got to stay there for the rest of the race. Honestly, I’d be disappointed with anything else.
“Every time we come here to IMS, at least this way (road course), we’ve been quick. So, coming into this year, I was confident. The last time I drove on this track (last July), I finished second. I was second in both practice sessions this morning, so I wanted to up it one, and I did.”
Swedish driver Rosenqvist fell just short of earning his second NTT P1 Award of the season and first this year on a road course. But tight competition was the story of the day, as the margin of .2979 of a second between the top six was the fourth smallest in the history of the Firestone Fast Six format.
“It just came down to nailing a lap at the end,” Rosenqvist said. “I made a mistake, just a little wobble there. I just went for it – all or nothing. Big congrats to Christian. Scandinavian front row – that’s always cool.”
Several times today I heard the IMS road course described as “Very European,” including by Lundgaard and Rosenqvist. Compared to ovals and street courses, certainly. But compared to Barber? Mid-Ohio? Road America? Portland? Laguna Seca? IMS is a roval with an imposing stadium section and doesn’t seem particularly European to me. So I asked.
“It’s just more about maximizing what you have rather than being like close to the walls or close to the gravel,” said Rosenqvist. “I think here if you can make the car work for you, you can make a difference, and maybe it’s a bit of a smoother lap. You don’t see anyone really fighting the car a lot. You have a couple of snaps here and there, but it’s not like Detroit or Nashville or even Iowa, something like that. It’s a fairly smooth lap, smooth surface, high grip, and also the fact that we can do the lap in lap one is kind of unique.
“At least we can have kind of a slow out lap and then do a lap and then the tires are gone. I think that, at least for Christian, Formula 2, it’s pretty similar to that. But it’s not like we’re only good here, I think. But may be in our favor a bit.”
2021 series champion Alex Palou will start third after a best lap of 1:09.3780 in the No. 10 The American Legion Honda, with Harvey next to him on row 2.
“I’m a bit disappointed that we didn’t get the pole,” said Palou. “We were looking strong all day—third in practice 1 and then P1 in practice 2. We just missed it by a bit, but it’s good to be disappointed when you’re starting third. The car feels great, just need to find a little bit more during the warm-up and try to get our first win of the season.”
Pato O’Ward qualified fifth at 1:09.5422 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet. “P5 for us today,” said O’Ward. “My turn 1 on that lap definitely didn’t deserve pole today, but we’ve got a strong race car. It should rain overnight, so I think warmup will be interesting, then we’ll give it hell in the race.”
Long Beach winner Kyle Kirkwood rounded out the Firestone Fast Six at 1:09.6292 in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda.
Championship leader Marcus Ericsson will start seventh, just missing the Firestone Fast Six in Round 2 with his best lap of 1:09.4419 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
A big story was the struggles of many of this season’s race winners and title contenders and past winners of this race, and past season champions.
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden (starting 13th), 2022 GMR Grand Prix winner Colton Herta (starting 14th), 2023 Barber winner Scott McLaughlin (starting 16th), and Andretti Autosport’s top championship contender this season, Romain Grosjean (starting 18th), all were eliminated in the first round of qualifying.
“I did an okay first lap,” said Newgarden. “I was going for it. But you know at this point you can’t go through there with the yellow (from a Benjamin Pedersen spin) and go quicker, otherwise I’m was going to get a penalty. So I backed off a little bit there. Then I decided that I could really go quicker on the whole lap. But, man I lost so much at the start of it that seemed irrelevant at that point.
“So it was unfortunate because that was the lap to really put it together. I would say it was bad timing again, you know, what are we going to do? I mean, it’s not anybody’s fault outside of the timing. I thought the car was good. Timing is going be more important tomorrow. Thanks to Snap On and Team Chevy, we will just go for it tomorrow.”
“We changed a little bit in practice 2,” said McLaughlin. “Nothing crazy. A little smidgen here or there. Just missed the ballpark. Anyway, it is what it is.”
Reigning series champion Will Power made it through to the second round but was eliminated in that session. He will start 12th in the No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet. ““I just tried a different gear in turn 7 to see,” said Power. “We’re just so far off. That was everything I had. I screwed the first lap up. Certainly, we’re missing a half of a second.
“The car doesn’t feel that bad. I felt in practice we were pretty good, kind of hanging out in the top-10. Never P1 material, but we’ll just have to dig deep tomorrow. We’ve had some pretty good races, so we’ll see if we can get the Verizon car up there. I got a new Chevy engine this week, so got plenty of horsepower. We’ll see what we can do.”
“Obviously, we’re going to try and work our butts off to be quick tomorrow but, you know, it’s kind of been the trend of our season,” said Conor Daly, starting 21st. “We’ve slipped a little back at every track we’ve been at. We have to do a better job and, you know, we as drivers have to deliver the information as best we can, and we’ve got to work together to make us better because both Rinus (VeeKay) and I can’t be happy with where we’re starting. We just got to be honest with ourselves and we’ve got to be willing to get this to the next level. It’s a real, real shame because obviously, we’ve had a tough year. Hopefully, tomorrow, you never know what could happen. We’ve always raced well here so we’ll try to take this Chevrolet forward.”
“Today was difficult with the weather being unpredictable,” said VeeKay, starting 17th. “We are missing the balance for the new tires so we are chasing it a bit. A tough session, especially when a tenth would move us into the second round. We can race our way forward tomorrow. Even when things are tough like today, we always can make progress. We have an extra set of red tires for tomorrow and the team will do everything they can.”
Lundgaard’s is Honda’s fourth pole in five rounds of the 2023 IndyCar series. The other Honda-powered pole winners this year include Romain Grosjean at St. Petersburg and Barber Motorsports Park; plus Kyle Kirkwood at the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday on NBC.
INDIANAPOLIS – Qualifying Friday for the GMR Grand Prix NTT INDYCAR SERIES event on the 2.439-mile Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, with qualifying position, car number in parentheses, driver, engine, time and speed in parentheses:
1. (45) Christian Lundgaard, Honda, 01:09.3321 (126.643 mph)
2. (6) Felix Rosenqvist, Chevrolet, 01:09.3348 (126.638)
3. (10) Alex Palou, Honda, 01:09.3780 (126.559)
4. (30) Jack Harvey, Honda, 01:09.4220 (126.479)
5. (5) Pato O’Ward, Chevrolet, 01:09.5422 (126.260)
6. (27) Kyle Kirkwood, Honda, 01:09.6292 (126.102)
7. (8) Marcus Ericsson, Honda, 01:09.4419 (126.442)
8. (15) Graham Rahal, Honda, 01:09.4711 (126.389)
9. (9) Scott Dixon, Honda, 01:09.4757 (126.381)
10. (7) Alexander Rossi, Chevrolet, 01:09.5471 (126.251)
11. (11) Marcus Armstrong, Honda, 01:09.6148 (126.128)
12. (12) Will Power, Chevrolet, 01:10.1872 (125.100)
13. (2) Josef Newgarden, Chevrolet, 01:09.8402 (125.721)
14. (26) Colton Herta, Honda, 01:09.8375 (125.726)
15. (29) Devlin DeFrancesco, Honda, 01:09.8676 (125.672)
16. (3) Scott McLaughlin, Chevrolet, 01:09.9899 (125.452)
17. (21) Rinus VeeKay, Chevrolet, 01:09.9625 (125.502)
18. (28) Romain Grosjean, Honda, 01:10.0747 (125.301)
19. (60) Simon Pagenaud, Honda, 01:10.2625 (124.966)
20. (18) David Malukas, Honda, 01:10.2562 (124.977)
21. (20) Conor Daly, Chevrolet, 01:10.2669 (124.958)
22. (51) Sting Ray Robb, Honda, 01:10.2747 (124.944)
23. (55) Benjamin Pedersen, Chevrolet, 01:10.5181 (124.513)
24. (77) Callum Ilott, Chevrolet, 01:10.2920 (124.913)
25. (78) Agustin Canapino, Chevrolet, 01:10.5424 (124.470)
26. (06) Helio Castroneves, Honda, 01:10.3509 (124.809)
27. (14) Santino Ferrucci, Chevrolet, 01:10.5879 (124.390)
photos by Tim Hailey, story by Hailey, IMS/IndyCar, and team reports