Christian Lundgaard built on the breakthrough of his first career NTT IndyCar Series podium last week at Indianapolis by setting the pace in the opening practice session for the second Big Machine Music City Grand Prix in Nashville.
Running on the alternate tires — green rather than red sidewalled this week, to signify Firestone’s new guayule-sourced tires — the Dane set a 1m15.9659s fast lap in his No. 30 Honda that was a relatively comfortable 0.2391s clear of the field. It marked the first session this season led by a Rahal Letterman Lanigan driver.
“Obviously I’m super-happy to be up here again. We were there last weekend and to start the weekend here is obviously great,” Lundgaard told NBC Sports. “But we’ve got qualifying and the race coming up and we need to be as efficient as we’ve been the last couple of races, making sure everything is right, just executing when we have the package — and now we know we have the package.
“I wasn’t expecting to be the fastest out car out there. The lap was good, but I think the green tires don’t last for long so it will be interesting to see how they cope with Q1, Fast 12 and Fast Six. If you have to save one for the Fast Six I think that would be the preferred way.”
Last week’s polesitter Felix Rosenqvist was strong again for Arrow McLaren SP, taking second with a 1m16.2050s in his No. 07 Chevy, while David Malukas impressed once again for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports, posting the third-best time at 1m16.2366s in the No. 18 Honda.
While the organizers’ reprofiling work appears to have smoothed out some of the fearsome bumps on the 2.17-mile street course, bottoming out and wheel-hopping remained an issue, while the session was interrupted by five red flags. However most of these were relatively harmless stalls resulting from lock-ups into runoff zones.
The 75-minute afternoon session got underway under mostly cloudy skies with 88 degree F heat and oppressive humidity, but the session got off to a slow start as most drivers chose to limit their early running in order to save their tires on the grueling circuit. The slow start was slightly more problematic for last week’s winner Alexander Rossi, who spent much of the session bleeding the brakes, but he was able to get up to speed relatively easily late in the session.
After the rookies held sway in the opening 15 minutes, headed by Malukas at 1m18.1595s, Tennessee’s own Josef Newgarden hit the track and immediately surged to the top with a lap of 1m18.078s, which the Team Penske driver soon lowered to 1m17.3855s. But just as the balance of the field was getting up to speed, Dalton Kellett brought out a brief red flag by going off into the runoff area and stalling.
When the session resumed a few minutes later, Romain Grosjean’s No. 28 Andretti Autosports Honda and the No. 3 Penske Chevy of Scott McLaughlin joined Newgarden in the 1m17s. McLaughlin then pushed his teammate off the top spot with a 1m16.8441. Alex Palou all but matched that a few minutes later in No. 10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.
Running on the alternate tires began with about 15 minutes to go, Rosenqvist showed the green’s strength first, but Lundgaard bettering that moments later at 1m15.9659s in his first run on the same compound.
It was a tough start to the weekend for Helio Castroneves, who suffered light suspension damage after running just nine laps, having been delayed getting on course due to a misfire in his Meyer Shank Racing No. 06 Honda. IndyCar announced earlier on Friday that Castroneves will have to take a six-place grid drop on Sunday due to an unscheduled engine change.
UP NEXT: Practice 2, 12:15pm ET Saturday