Untouchable: FR Americas champ Lundqvist

Image by Gavin Baker

Untouchable: FR Americas champ Lundqvist

SCCA / SportsCar Magazine

Untouchable: FR Americas champ Lundqvist

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The SCCA Pro Racing Formula Regional Americas Championship Powered by Honda series (previously Formula 3 Americas) has once more produced a champion likely to become a racing superstar. Indeed, 21-year-old Linus Lundqvist seems certain to follow in the footsteps of Kyle Kirkwood (2018) and Dakota Dickerson (2019), both of whom are on the fast track to IndyCars and world-class sports car racing. And this isn’t hyperbole.

Lundqvist’s 2020 FR Americas win ratio is utterly staggering. He managed 15 victory laps in 17 starts, matching Kirkwood’s seemingly untouchable 2018 record. It also came against top-notch competition, including three drivers who were headed for Indy Lights but thwarted by COVID; the reigning SCCA Pro Racing F4 U.S. and Hoosier Super Tour Formula Atlantic champions; and several karting superstars.

Lundqvist’s FR Americas title was supreme talent showing through. How do we know that? Consider the post-season words of his veteran car chief, Tony Nicholson: “That young man is going somewhere.”

With eight years of karting, two European single-seater titles – the 2016 STCC Nordic and 2018 BRDC F3 championships – and a Daytona 24 Hour start on his resume when he arrived in the U.S., the young driver from Tyreso Municipality, Sweden, had proven abilities. Despite his success, though, the winter of 2019/2020 was long and hard, his FR Americas deal with one of the series’ premier teams, Christian and Helle Pedersen’s Global Racing Group (GRG), pulled together very late.

“For almost every driver, budget is a big question – trying to find sponsorship and make it work,” Lundqvist explained. “For a long time, I wasn’t even sure that I was going to race [in 2020]. We looked at many different options – staying in Europe; going abroad to America; looking at Japan, etcetera.

“But when Honda announced its scholarship and the prize – a full season in Indy Lights – it became clear to us that’s where we want to be. I managed to get in touch with Christian who owns GRG, we spoke, and then, yeah, we made it happen.

“Then COVID happened, so [the season] got postponed, and just getting into the country was a hassle for me,” Lundqvist revealed. “I had to spend two weeks in quarantine in Mexico and got into the country 13 days before the first race. I had a day and a half in the car, meeting the team; then we drove to Mid-Ohio for the first race.

“I didn’t know anyone when I got there. Then, obviously, hadn’t driven the car that much, hadn’t been to the track, and then we had just two free practice sessions before qualifying. It was all very hectic.”

Despite having only seen Mid-Ohio on a simulator, Lundqvist edged HMD Motorsports’ David Malukas for the pole at that first race by 0.001sec as rookies claimed eight of the top 10 positions in a very international field.

Lithuanian-American Malukas, age 19 and a Mid-Ohio local, had more experience on the challenging central-Ohio road course with a front-running background in USF2000, the Indy Pro 2000 forerunner Pro Mazda series, and Indy Lights. Malukas would prove to be Lundqvist’s nearest rival at Mid-Ohio, as well as through the season, notching two wins, six seconds, and seven thirds.

Lundqvist followed up on weekend sweeps at Mid-Ohio and VIR with a dominant display at Barber Motorsports Park. And he was just getting started … Image by Gavin Baker

Lundqvist, though, would lead every lap of both races in the season-opener, notching fastest lap in both races and immediately putting his – as well as GRG’s four-car squadron – stamp on the long-delayed 2020 season.
Then the fun really began as Lundqvist would similarly sweep the next two weekends, winning all three races at a brutally hot VIR and three races at Barber Motorsports Park.

In Virginia, Lundqvist was introduced to 30-plus-year veteran mechanic Nicholson, proprietor of a successful vintage car restoration business, Robin Automotive, and brought into the GRG fold by friend Evan Chance, the team’s technical lead, to serve as Lundqvist’s car chief.

“It was a bit of a funny story [meeting Tony at VIR],” Lundqvist remembered, “because we had a Thursday practice and, for the first session, I did three laps and then on the fourth lap I had a big off.”

Decidedly not the way to ingratiate yourself with a new mechanic.

“It was kind of interesting,” Nicholson recalled of that weekend. “He turned up in the middle of the afternoon and said, ‘Oh, hi. I’m Linus. I’m your driver. I guess you’re my new mechanic.’ Then he did four laps and [put it off]! He was most apologetic. I didn’t know if [crashing] was normal for him or what, but I just said, ‘Don’t worry about it. There are people in France and North Carolina making parts all day long to keep these cars around. Don’t worry about it.’

“It meant a lot more to me later that weekend,” Nicholson continued, “when we were working late and he came across with a cup of coffee, asked if I wanted one, and chased me down a cup. That meant more to me than him throwing [the car] off the racetrack. That right there was the turning point; we’ve since built a strong rapport.”

Indeed, that was Lundqvist’s only miscue through the 17-race season, a particularly notable stat in the rough-and-tumble FR Americas world.

“He is just such a good kid, really,” Nicholson said. “I mean, good character; personality as well.”

With former Tom Gloy mechanic Nicholson fitting in quickly to the well-disciplined, reigning FR Americas title-winning GRG operation, Lundqvist pushed his undefeated streak to eight, taking a commanding points lead nearing the halfway mark as the battle for podium finishes behind him raged.

Looking back, the three wins at Barber, series Rounds 6, 7, and 8, were special, Lundqvist said. “It wasn’t just because the circuit itself is awesome, but everything around it as well. The scenery and the facility are amazing. When we drove through the gates the first time, I’m like, ‘We’re in a national park! It’s awesome!’ It was really beautiful.”

At Sebring, though, in Round 9, his winning streak came to a heart-crushing close with one of those 5-cent failures. Leading from the pole, a screw broke and his Ligier’s engine cover worked its way off, upsetting the aerodynamics and airflow to the engine and costing him several seconds per lap. Despite a late-race caution bunching up the field, the Swede dropped steadily backwards, eventually finishing sixth as two Road to Indy rivals scrapped for the win, HMD’s Malukas eventually besting Andretti Autosport’s Danial Frost by 0.809sec.

“It was obviously disappointing to have my victory streak come to an end,” Lundqvist told SCCA Pro Racing publicist Amy Greenway after the race. “But these things can happen in motorsport. It was looking so good – leading from pole, controlling the race, and we really should have won it.”

The team made sure “these things” didn’t happen again to his No. 26 GRG Ligier-turbo Honda as the season wound down, Lundqvist winning the next four races (two at Sebring, two at Homestead) before finishing second (to Malukas) in the third race at Homestead. There, Lundqvist made an uncharacteristically poor start and, with an opportunity to clinch the overall Drivers’ Championship title, gave a conservative chase and settled for second.

He didn’t win the battle in series Round 14, the war was won, locking up the championship – and the scholarship to Indy Lights for 2021 – with three races remaining, all at Circuit of The Americas. Of course, Lundqvist won all three.

“David [Malukas] and I had some fights on track, but I think I actually had more wheel-to-wheel action with [Victor] Franzoni who was third in the championship – especially the second half of the season,” says Lundqvist. “Franzoni sort of caught up. In both of the Florida races and even at COTA, we had big fights for sure.”

Brazilian Franzoni, like Lundqvist, Malukas, and two of Lundqvist’s three teammates, Nicky Hays and Dario Cangialosi, was a Formula Regional Americas rookie, though one with more than a decade of experience in karts, F3, USF2000, and even IMSA prototypes. Third in the first race, the 25-year-old many of his rivals called “grandpa” suffered a midseason dry spell but finished on the podium in eight of the final nine races to finish a fighting third in the championship.

“In the end, I think we just managed to have that little bit of extra speed to make sure we kept [Malukas and Franzoni] at a comfortable distance,” said Lundqvist. “But there were definitely some races where I was sweating.”

Lundqvist (No. 26) came to the U.S. with a successful pedigree, having won seven races as Double R Racing team leader en route to the 2018 BRDC championship. Motorsport Images

Talk to his car chief, though, and it’s hard to picture Lundqvist ever breaking sweat. “I always listened in to the [radio] conversations between him and Mark [Weida, GRG’s veteran chief engineer],” said Nicholson. “Linus never came into the pits and then said, ‘I think we should do this or that or dah, dah, dah.’ He was working on all of those thoughts while he was on the racetrack so that we would have things to do as soon as he came in. He doesn’t waste time. He knows time is valuable. He’s always on top of the car.”

“Luckily, I was with a team that knew what they were doing,” Lundqvist added. “[GRG] won the championship the previous year [with Dickerson, who became one of Lundqvist’s most-trusted mentors through the season], and I was really, really lucky to have their support.”

Learning six new tracks with no testing and only limited practice in the shortened FR Americas season was one thing; learning about racing with turbocharged engines was quite another.

“One of the things that I found most difficult when I got into the car was [the] turbo,” Lundqvist explained. “At the beginning, I really had to think about how to adapt. At Barber, honestly, is where it really clicked for me, where it started to become normal to have the turbo; to make sure to spool it up at the right time.

“The previous cars [non-turbo Formula Renault 1.6 and UK Formula 3], you can drive to be very ‘reactive’ to what you feel,” he continued. “You can brake late and throw it in there. When you feel like you’ve got the grip, you can just go on power. But this car, when you throw it in there and you feel like you have the grip, you go on power and there’s a bit of a delay. So, you have to be one step ahead, just for that to become normal and natural … that was the tough part.”

Tough, perhaps, but Linus Lundqvist made it all look easy, the hallmark of all the truly great drivers. In the words of his mechanic, “That young man is going somewhere.”

NOTE: On Jan. 19 it was announced that Lundqvist was, indeed, going somewhere: He will be joining 2020 FRA rival (and friend) David Malukas, Benjamin Pedersen, and a fourth driver to be named in the newly formed Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports Indy Lights team.

This feature originally appeared in the January/February 2021 issue of SportsCar magazine, the official publication of the Sports Car Club of America. A print and digital subscription is just one of the many benefits of SCCA membership.

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