Indy Lights ace Lundqvist ponders next move

Chris Owens/Penske Entertainment

Indy Lights ace Lundqvist ponders next move

Road to Indy

Indy Lights ace Lundqvist ponders next move

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Penske Entertainment’s first season of running the Indy Lights series has been a success in almost every regard. From the increased grid size to the enhanced incentives for its leading performers, the top step of the Road to Indy is looking healthier than it’s been in many years. It also faces the possibility of failing its presumptive champion, Linus Lundqvist.

With a 108-point lead in hand, the dominating 23-year-old from Sweden could seal the Lights championship this weekend in Portland, and assuming he earns the title, the next step in his career would involve avoiding the fate that awaited Jean-Karl Vernay, the Frenchman who edged James Hinchcliffe to the 2010 Lights title but failed to graduate to IndyCar.

The number of Indy Lights champions whose open-wheel careers stalled while trying to reach IndyCar is small, with Vernay serving as the last entry on the list, but it’s a possibility Lundqvist is facing unless he’s signed by one of the few IndyCar teams that remain with seats to offer.

Through his HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing Indy Lights team, an interest is held in promoting Lundqvist to IndyCar, but it would require a vacancy in one of DCR’s two seats or the provisioning of a third engine lease by Honda. Elsewhere, the demand for a sizable budget is the limitation to overcome, and while he’d have an advancement prize that would cover a few races, including the Indy 500, the next-generation star finds himself in a precarious situation.

Together, the odds of graduating to IndyCar as a full-timer are imposing, but Lundqvist hasn’t stopped searching for solutions to bring his considerable talent to the big series.

“It’s been that way for quite a long time,” he told RACER. “Obviously the number one goal has been to try to win as many races as we can, and hopefully a championship. But I realize also that it’s quite important to keep talking to IndyCar teams and see what’s possible out there. You know how the market looks, and there’s not an abundance of seats available.

“So, the best I can do is get good results on track and also make sure that your name is out there, making sure that the team owners know you’re doing well. That’s what I’ve been doing so far, and I do want to believe that the most important thing is doing well on track. I do think we’ve been doing a pretty good job this year, so hopefully can be in a good position for next year.”

From Pato O’Ward to Oliver Askew to Kyle Kirkwood, the last three Indy Lights champions have been hired to drive by IndyCar teams, with the $1 million advancement prize used to cover just under 20 percent of the budget during their rookie season. Lundqvist says he’s been searching for more money to entice team owners, but if he isn’t hired for a full-time drive, he’s not sure he’ll be able to pay for the opportunity.

“The toughest part most racing drivers face is raising a budget and obviously throughout the junior [series] years, but that’s the one of the most important things that you have to do,” he said. “Fortunately, I’ve had good support from my people back home, the sponsors that I have through to the junior series, but it’s just been barely enough to keep doing what I’ve been doing. So unfortunately, I won’t be able to have any financial support from my sponsors to step up to IndyCar. What I will have, hopefully, is the scholarship and being a fast driver. That’s what the last [Indy Lights] champions had, and hopefully that will be enough to turn a couple of heads.”

For now, Lundqvist’s job is to try and secure the title and continue to search for an IndyCar home as a busy silly season plays out into the offseason. RACER has learned of an interesting and alternate strategy for Lundqvist, which he declined to discuss, which involves the possibility of being rerouted to the Japanese Super Formula open-wheel series — which produced reigning IndyCar champion Alex Palou — in 2023 if no doors open in IndyCar.

Having won the 2020 Formula Regional Americas title using Honda power, Lundqvist is known to be on a short list of high-caliber Road to Indy talent that could receive a paid season of Super Formula by Honda Japan. Although it would be far from optimal, continuing his career for a year in Japan while waiting for the 2024 IndyCar season where almost every team will have open seats to fill, could be the fallback position for Lundqvist if Penske Entertainment is unable to ensure its first Indy Lights champion is on the IndyCar grid in 2023.

“Obviously, the natural progression for me to join Coyne/HMD is there,” Lundqvist said. “But the tough part there is they don’t have an engine lease they need to add a third car for me. Apart from that, there might be some opportunities if the rumors of Colton Herta going to F1 open up a seat, or some of the other rumors about seats being possible, but who knows what’s gonna happen.

“At this moment, I’m just in a position of hoping things work out somehow. Honestly, I’m at the stage where I’m listening to anything that could potentially come up because I want to be in IndyCar next year, wherever that might be. So we’ll see what happens.”

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