All that kept Christian Lundgaard and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing from turning pole position into their first victory with the No. 45 Honda was a tire strategy that played into the hands of race winner and new championship leader Alex Palou.
Despite missing out on a podium finish, RLL — led by Lundgaard — had plenty of reasons to be proud after recording its most competitive NTT IndyCar Series event across all three of its entries in more than a year.
“Right now I’m satisfied with fourth,” Lundgaard said. “It was a tough day. The No. 45 Honda has been quick all weekend. It wasn’t as quick today, unfortunately, but to come home with fourth — there was a point in this race where I thought we weren’t going to finish in the top 10 with that pace and the balance of the car. So, to end up fourth is a win right now. But, I think we need to look at the perspective of how great performance-wise we’ve run all weekend. That’s the positives to take from this weekend. Now we move on and can start the month of May.”
Lundgaard and Palou went in opposite directions with their usage of Firestone’s primary and alternate tires. For the Dane, it was a case of starting on the slower primaries while Palou went for the faster but shorter lifespan alternates. At the first round of pit stops, Lundgaard took new alternates, Palou had used primaries installed, and from there, the die was cast. Lundgaard was able to use the added pace offered by the alternates to get by Palou, but soon, his tires began to surrender and with a choice to go to a set of used alternates at the next stop, the No. 45 was headed for a world of hurt as Palou’s consistent speed on the used primaries he relied on for the remainder of the race saw Lundgaard trail home 23.4s behind the Spaniard.
“It was strange because that one set, the rears were going off but then the previous red set I was just understeering like crazy,” Lundgaard said. “So I didn’t really understand how we got the balance so wrong. Then again, those are things we need to learn from now on. Of course, it was the set that had run in the Fast Six and we’re not in the Fast Six that often. So, these are the things that we need to learn moving on. We’ll try our best.”
Teammate Graham Rahal started eighth and spent the day in the wars. He’d come home 10th, and the third member of the trio, Jack Harvey, was on pace for his best result with RLL after qualifying fourth but was relegated to 20th after spinning on his own. What lies ahead for the team when Indy 500 practice starts is unknown, but as RLL looks ahead to the upcoming races on road courses, similar performances should be possible.
“I didn’t see anybody on my inside and I gave (Kyle Kirkwood) so much room to the apex on purpose just to give him some room not to make a mistake and hit me,” Rahal said. “I gave him two car widths, probably, to the apex in Turn 1 and shouldn’t have been touched. That’s disappointing. But, obviously, we have to turn the page now. We had a great save to do a two-stop race from there on and finish in the top 10. I think it’s pretty sweet when you consider how many guys we got ahead of and how far ahead of them we got, which was pretty good. Hopefully a really strong Indy 500 is next. That’s got to be the goal.”