Paddock Buzz: Lundgaard Hopes Derby Luck Continues

  • Racing News
Christian Lundgaard

NTT INDYCAR SERIES rookie Christian Lundgaard is hoping his luck this month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway is as good as it was last week Churchill Downs.

Lundgaard experienced the iconic horse racing facility in Louisville for the first time, placing a few bets, mostly breaking even at the pay window. But by the time the 148th Kentucky Derby went to post, the 20-year-old Danish driver had dug a $6 credit slip out of his pocket and examined the board for a horse to bet on.

That’s right: He chose Rich Strike, the stunning winner which at the time of his bet carried 99-1 odds.

“Picked the one with the worst odds,” Lundgaard said, laughing. “No other reason for it, just went that way.”

As someone who had never attended a horse race, Lundgaard wasn’t adept at keeping track of his horse in the race, although in fairness Rich Strike mostly ran in the back of the pack. As the throng cheered the sprint to the finish, Lundgaard saw the winning horse carrying No. 2, but he wasn’t sure if it had a second digit.

Rich Strike was No. 21 as the final horse allowed to compete.

“I kept asking, ‘Was that 21? Was that 21?’” Lundgaard said. “When I found out it was, I couldn’t believe it.”

Rich Strike’s final odds were 80-1, paying $486.

Here’s the kicker: When Lundgaard arrived at IMS for Saturday’s GMR Grand Prix, he learned that gambling sites had his odds of winning the season’s fifth race at 80-to-1. The odds are similar for him to win the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge.

Lundgaard, who drives the No. 30 Shield Cleansers Honda for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, said he can’t bet on himself, but he said he hasn’t been shy in encouraging others to do so.

In NTT P1 Award qualifying held Friday, Lundgaard supported that confidence in himself by earning the eighth starting spot for Saturday’s 85-lap race, which NBC will broadcast beginning at 3 p.m. (ET). The green flag is expected at 3:45 p.m.

The 14-turn, 2.439-mile permanent road course is the first in the U.S. where Lundgaard has previously raced. Last year, he qualified fourth before suffering food poisoning later that night and laboring to a 12th-place finish in the race.

Lundgaard said the circuit has characteristics of European tracks he knows well.

“I’m really looking forward to a good race,” he said. “I feel really comfortable here, and I’m confident we can do well.”

A competitor with 80-1 odds to win? It’s been done before.

A Race Date to Remember

Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus VeeKay (No. 21 Building Tomorrow Chevrolet) will never forget his first NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory, earned in the 2021 GMR Grand Prix at IMS. To ensure that, he had it commemorated with a tattoo on his arm. It reads: May 15, 2021.

“Doing that in Indianapolis is very special, especially the way it went,” he said. “Everything went right in the race, and it was a dominant win, which I will never forget.”

The date has special significance for Dutch motorsports fans, he said.

“Five years ago, (when) Max Verstappen got his first-ever F1 win,” he said. “May 15th is a very special date for Dutch race car fans.”

Verstappen, F1’s reigning world champion, won his first race on that date in the Spanish Grand Prix in Barcelona, holding off Ferrari drivers Kimi Raikkonen and Sebastian Vettel.

VeeKay’s defense of last year’s GMR Grand Prix will begin from the 15th starting position. He said his car was the fastest on the Firestone Firehawk primary (black) tires, but it didn’t handle the alternate reds as well.

Odds And Ends

  • Will Power (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet) mentioned that it felt like it had been a long time since he won an NTT P1 Award for being the fastest qualifier of a road course or street circuit event. The count: 14 races dating back to the last race of the 2020 season (in the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg). Power won a pole last year on an oval (at World Wide Technology Raceway).
  • In addition to the 64th pole of his career, Power has been the fastest qualifier in at least one race in 14 consecutive NTT INDYCAR SERIES seasons and 16 of the past 17 seasons overall.
  • Conor Daly (No. 20 BitNile Chevrolet of Ed Carpenter Racing) earned his best starting position of the season in fourth, but it shouldn’t have been a surprise given how well he has qualified on this road course in the past. He started sixth in last year’s GMR Grand Prix and eighth in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. He thought he might earn a front-row spot “but I had one little moment” on the key lap.
  • Rookie Callum Ilott (No. 77 Juncos Hollinger Racing Chevrolet) will start a career-best seventh in Saturday’s race. His previous-best starting position (11th) came in the series’ most-recent race at Barber Motorsports Park.
  • Think this isn’t a competitive NTT INDYCAR SERIES field? Six drivers representing 11 Indianapolis 500 victories failed to advance out of the first round of qualifying.
  • Scott Dixon (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda) was among the former “500” winners unable to explain why his car wasn’t fast enough to advance. He will start 21st. “We’re making (setup) swings when we shouldn’t be making swings,” he told NBC Sports. “It’s a different car every time you go out.”
  • Juan Pablo Montoya (No. 6 Arrow McLaren SP Chevrolet) is making his NTT INDYCAR SERIES season debut this weekend. He noted the difficulty of maximizing the red tires when competitors get so little opportunity to use them prior to qualifying. “And then you do probably 70 laps on reds in the race,” he said on the Peacock Premium broadcast.
  • One benefit to not advancing through the first round of qualifying: Those 15 drivers, plus a few others, will have an extra set of unused red tires for the race. All competitors are required to use both sets in the race.
  • A reminder: NBC will air “Pennzoil presents The Club” documentary with the four four-time winners of the “500” on Saturday at 2 p.m. (ET).
  • Danial Frost of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing won Race 1 of Indy Lights Grand Prix of Indianapolis on Friday, the first series win of his career. Frost moved up due to early contact between leaders Linus Lundqvist of HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing, the pole sitter, and Christian Rasmussen of Andretti Autosport followed by the contact of Andretti Autosport’s Matthew Brabham sending Benjamin Pedersen of Global Racing Group with HMD spinning. Lundqvist will start on the pole for Saturday’s Race 2 at 1:20 p.m. (ET).
  • Braden Eves, who in 2020 had a spectacular flip in the Indy Pro 2000 race off Turn 11 at IMS, won Friday’s series race. Eves said the win “proved to me that I can win here again” after scoring a pair of USF2000 victories in 2019 en route to the series championship. This win was the fifth for Eves in Indy Pro 2000, and he led a 1-2 finish for Jay Howard Driver Development. Salvador De Alba finished second, 5.5 seconds behind.
  • Alex Quinn of Velocity Racing Development won Friday’s USF2000 race in his first start in the series. The 21-year-old Englishman outdistanced second-place Billy Frazer of Exclusive Autosport by 2.1657 seconds. Jagger Jones, the grandson of 1963 Indianapolis 500 winner Parnelli Jones, finished third for Cape Motorsports. The second race of the weekend is Saturday at 8:05 a.m.