Christian Lundgaard and David Malukas continued their hard-fought battle for the NTT INDYCAR SERIES Rookie of the Year award on Saturday with strong qualifying efforts at Portland International Raceway.
Lundgaard reached the Firestone Fast Six round for the third straight event and will start a career-best third in the No. 30 Honda Shield Cleansers of Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing. He also took third place in last month’s Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
Malukas spent most of the weekend near the top of the gear chart and was therefore disappointed to only start 11th in Dale Coyne Racing’s #18 Honda HMD with HMD.
Still, the two drivers separated by just 11 points have their work cut out for them when the green flag drops for the Portland Grand Prix on Sunday (3 p.m. ET, NBC and INDYCAR Radio Network). Lundgaard leads Malukas, but it won’t take much to turn the tide heading into the season finale on Sept. 11 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“We’re in a pretty good position,” Lundgaard said. “It’s good to be the best of the best (behind the three Team Penske drivers in qualifying). Penske cars were strong all weekend; they set the tone, that’s for sure. Being up there in the mix is good.
Lundgaard said he might have gotten an even higher qualifying position, but he ran wide out of Turn 7, dropping his car’s left side tires into the dirt.
“(The car) hit rock bottom, so I lost time there,” he said. “I think the pace is in the car, but I didn’t quite execute. But still, P3 on the grid isn’t a bad thing at all. We’re going to go (race).
Lundgaard and Malukas have each finished second in a race this season, both in the last three races of the series.
Said Malukas of his qualifying position: “It’s a bit of a shame because we knew we had the rhythm after (Friday’s training). It seems that with the cooler track temperatures, our car doesn’t seem to perform as well. We were trying to catch up and we didn’t really find the time (Saturday’s practice). In qualifying I think we got a bit closer, but with the track temperature dropping we weren’t able to get as much out of it as we wanted.
Testing seems to help
What does Team Penske’s decision to test at this track on August 26 look like now?
Last year, Roger Penske’s team qualified 14th (Will Power), 15th (Scott McLaughlin) and 18th (Josef Newgarden). On Saturday, these same drivers qualified first, second and third.
McLaughlin (No. 3 Freightliner Team Penske Chevrolet) and Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) will start Sunday’s race on the front row, with Newgarden, who qualified second in the No. 2 Hitachi Team Penske Chevrolet, starting eighth as the result of a six-grid penalty for an unapproved engine change after last month’s race at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Many other teams have chosen to book their last test day of the season for August 29 at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, site of next weekend’s season finale, the Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey.
“We weren’t brilliant here last year as a team,” McLaughlin said. “We (decided) at the beginning of the year that we were going to come (to test). So, yes, I hope that we will arrive at Laguna Seca and that our cars are not too bad, that we have made the right choice in coming here, focusing on (this).
“I think going 1-2-3 in qualifying was a good test for that.”
AJ Foyt Racing also appeared to benefit from testing here. Rookie Kyle Kirkwood narrowly missed second-round access and will start 13th in the No. 14 Sexton Properties Chevrolet, one of his best qualifying efforts of the season. He earned ninth place at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course and finished 12th in qualifying at St. Petersburg and Long Beach.
Of course, testing didn’t mean everything to everyone.
Andretti Autosport also tested at PIR, and its top qualifiers were eighth (Colton Herta in the #26 Gainbridge Honda) and ninth (Alexander Rossi in the #27 NAPA AUTO PARTS/AutoNation Honda). Herta will start one position higher due to Newgarden’s penalty. The other two team cars will start 15th (Romain Grosjean in the #28 Honda DHL) and 24th (rookie Devlin DeFrancesco in the #29 Honda PowerTap).
The Herta crew to the rescue
Herta bounced off the Turn 1 barrier midway through the first qualifying lap, and the impact was so hard it bent the right front suspension. With only about four minutes left in the session, it looked like he wouldn’t advance to the next round. But his Andretti Autosport team quickly got to work, getting the car out in time for a final lap.
Herta did the rest, turning a lap that earned him fifth place.
“I didn’t really help anyone make contact with the wall at Turn 1,” said the driver. “But the guys fixed it in time, and the car felt good and straight. I wasn’t too worried about it (on lap two), but I think we missed it a bit overall. We tried to be a bit too aggressive.
“I’m happy to see how (the crew) bounced back because our day could have ended in the first run.”
Rossi leads the final practice
Rossi moved to the top of the speed chart in the 30-minute final practice on Saturday afternoon, clocking a lead lap of 59.0532 seconds. Rossi qualified ninth.
SEE: Results of the final practice
Lundgaard continued his show of strength this weekend finishing second at 59.1806. NTT P1 Award winner McLaughlin finished 12th with 59.4759.
Less than a second separated the 22 best drivers in the last session, a possible sign of a close race on Sunday.
- Alex Palou (#10 Honda Ridgeline Lubricants) was the only Chip Ganassi Racing driver to reach the second qualifying round. He will start fourth. The team’s other championship contenders – Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) and Marcus Ericsson (No. 8 PNC Bank Honda) – will start 16th and 18th respectively.
- The Indy Lights 35-lap race presented by Cooper Tires takes place at 1:05 p.m. ET, with live coverage from Peacock Premium, INDYCAR Live! and the INDYCAR radio network. Benjamin Pedersen will start from the front of the pack after earning his first career pole at Indy Lights in the World No. 24 racing group with the HMD car. Pedersen led all three track sessions this weekend at Indy Lights.
- Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Reece Gold won his second Indy Pro 2000 race of the weekend on Saturday, but Exclusive Autosport’s Louis Foster took the series title before the season finale. Foster won the first race of the weekend and will move on to Indy Lights in 2023. Exclusive Autosport won its first drivers championship.
- Cape Motorsports’ Michael D’Orlando won the USF2000 season championship on Saturday in the final race of the season, elevating it to one round in the 2000 Indy Pro for 2023. D’Orlando’s fourth victory of the season the jumped from third to first in the standings. after Pabst Racing teammates Jace Denmark and Myles Rowe were involved in an incident at the first corner. Denmark and DEForce Racing’s Mac Clark won the other two USF2000 races of the weekend. Denmark’s win was their fourth of the season; it was Clark’s first series win.