until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Snubbed junior champion showed IndyCar what it’s missing

by Jack Benyon
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

“When I came into the season, knowing that I wasn’t going to have a full-time ride, I was like, ‘it can be a career killer, but I’m going to make sure that it’s not’.”

That’s Linus Lundqvist, who has gone through the most complicated and rollercoaster journey to reach his IndyCar debut. But once given the chance as the injured Simon Pagenaud’s Meyer Shank Racing stand-in, he nailed a superb 11th-place start for that debut in Nashville this weekend.

From Sweden, Lundqvist has had to beg and borrow on his path to the top. He’s relied heavily on scholarships, a small group of devoted Swedish backers and knocking down doors for every opportunity, which is one of the reasons he’s making his debut at 24, older than nine of the 26 other drivers on the grid this weekend.

You may be well familiar with Lundqvist’s path by now. He won the 2020 Formula Regional Americas championship which gave him a scholarship for Indy Lights. He was a close third to Kyle Kirkwood and David Malukas as a rookie in 2021 then a comfortable champion last year.

Despite his relative good fortune with scholarships to that point, he picked the one year to win what’s now called Indy NXT where it didn’t offer a guaranteed IndyCar ride of a certain number of races in the next season.

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Without the budget of some of his rivals, he failed to make the senior series grid for 2023. The NXT prize for this year has been boosted again to ensure its champion makes it to the IndyCar grid in 2024.

Lundqvist’s used some of his $500,000 prize to do this race – he can defer what’s left to next year if he doesn’t use it late in 2023 – which shows just how much pressure is on this weekend for him.

Asked if he felt well positioned to get a seat next year, he replied: “Ask me again after Sunday and I’ll give you an answer!

“I think the testing is nice and obviously winning the championship last year is all good.

“But until you actually do a couple of races in IndyCar…The next week or the next weekend or this weekend, could change a lot of things.

“Nobody expects us to go in and perform and put together a perfect weekend, but if we can do a solid job and show glimpses in the race and have a good stint or so, I think you’ve done yourself a tremendous favour for next year.”

Linuslundqvist Bigmachinemusiccitygrandprix By Chrisjones Largeimagewithoutwatermark M88627

He’s shown no sign of that pressure all weekend, not least in a sterling Saturday performance to qualify 11th, the highest for a debutant since Kirkwood last year in St Petersburg.

Lundqvist also headed three of the four Ganassi cars, a McLaren entry and the whole Rahal squad which won the last street race in Toronto with Christian Lundgaard.

He beat all of those drivers that were chosen ahead of him for 2023 IndyCar seats or brought more budget for this season.

Those included Marcus Armstrong, driving for the team leading the championship in Chip Ganassi Racing and the current top rookie in the series, as well as Sting Ray Robb – who has had a woeful rookie year driving for the Dale Coyne team Lundqvist’s Indy Lights winning squad HMD is affiliated with. Robb’s best qualifying result is 21st.

Stingrayrobb Bigmachinemusiccitygrandprix By Travishinkle Largeimagewithoutwatermark M88886

Meyer Shank has really struggled this year too. Just to reinforce how well Lundqvist did on Saturday, he scored only the team’s second Fast 12 appearance of the year on road and street courses, the other one coming in Detroit via Pagenaud.

When Lundqvist says not having a full time ride for this year could be a career killer, I believe him.

Despite rating the Swede highly, I felt like it was going to be too much of an uphill struggle for him to come from the obscurity of not racing full-time to fight off a host of competitive drivers for a 2024 place. With 15 or more seats on the grid being paid, teams can be selective.

But this one-off may just be the stroke of genius Lundqvist and his management needed. If he can merely finish Sunday’s race, history suggests he’ll be in the top 15 because of the rate of attrition in Nashville.

And even if he doesn’t get further than the first lap – which is how far Tom Blomqvist got when replacing Pagenaud three races ago – he’s done enough with the qualifying performance to give Meyer Shank and the other teams something to think about.

The Race’s sources indicate Blomqvist has been sure of a seat at Shank next year in some capacity since May, and more recently current McLaren driver Felix Rosenqvist has jumped to top favourite status for the other seat if the team doesn’t retain Pagenaud.

But Lundqvist would be a cheaper option than Rosenqvist and if teams are able to get a good enough assessment of him this weekend, he could work his way into wider driver market contention.

Linuslundqvist Bigmachinemusiccitygrandprix By Chrisjones Largeimagewithoutwatermark M88705

The cynics among you will say that Lundqvist has only got this chance because Blomqvist is on IMSA SportsCar Championship duty, or because Lundqvist paid. Or both!

But none of that matters because with this qualifying performance – where he was 0.1311s clear of Helio Castroneves and became the first of Pagenaud’s stand-ins to beat the other Shank car – Lundqvist will have forced a few eyes open to what he can do.

That’s one of the things about motorsport, it has a short memory. And that works against you – few will have been thinking about Lundqvist as a major contender – and for you, as few will forget his performance here this weekend when names are being thrown around for driver vacancies in the coming weeks.

Rosenqvist gave one of the best summaries of the silly season on Thursday when he said he reckoned he could end up at any team on the grid but Penske for next year. Lots of drivers are in that situation. Lundqvist tested for Rahal Letterman Lanigan and Ed Carpenter, who may both have seats open for next year, while Foyt, Coyne and others could all be options too.

There’s no doubt Lundqvist has put himself in play. And props to him, as even when others have forgotten or moved on, he keeps fighting with whatever weapons he can get his hands on.

For the race, this weekend’s weather has been his biggest enemy. A delayed Saturday schedule due to rain meant the planned final practice session after qualifying was cancelled. That was when Lundqvist was supposed to get his first proper taste of fuel saving.

Music City Grand Prix 2023

With Nashville being one of the most unpredictable races on the calendar, he may not need much of that, but even just seat time and adapting to the MSR car has been tricky with the time given.

One full practice on Friday, a 30-minute second practice in heavy rain, qualifying and then a cancelled final practice. A rookie’s nightmare schedule.

But not to worry. A sensible race will mean Lundqvist’s job for the weekend is done. He was so impressive in the qualifying that his IndyCar debut has already achieved almost everything he could have hoped for in terms of proving he deserves a place on this grid.

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