Christian Lundgaard during the opening practice session. (Al Steinberg Photo)

Lundgaard Paces Opening Nashville Practice

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Rookie driver Christian Lundgaard has suddenly hit his stride in the NTT IndyCar Series. After finishing second in last Saturday’s Gallagher Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the driver form Denmark was the fastest driver in Friday’s practice session for Sunday’s Big Machine Records Music City Grand Prix.

The 21-year-old Dane turned the fastest lap in Friday’s session. He drove the No. 30 Honda around the around the 11-turn, 2.1-mile temporary street circuit in 1:15.9659 for a speed of 99.518 miles per hour.

This came one week after Lundgaard started sixth and finished second on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

How much has his confidence increased in the last week?

“Quite dramatically, honestly,” Lundgaard said. “I must say I wasn’t really expecting to be up here this far up today, never having been here before, show up and the pace was there. You see Malukas was in P3 as well.

“I think just the rookie field this year is quite strong. For me, Toronto, the car was good, which was the last street circuit. Coming here we were expecting to have a better package. It seems like the package is there.”

Felix Rosenqvist of Arrow McLaren SP was second in the No. 7 Chevrolet at 1:16.2050 (99.206 mph).

Rookie driver David Malukas is another impressive rookie. He was third in practice at 1:16.2366 (99.165 mph) in the No. 18 Honda for Dale Coyne Racing.

“It was very good,” Malukas said. “All of the changes we made were in the right direction, especially when we put the alternate tires on, it went surprisingly well.

“The team has done a really good job to make sure the car is ready for the bat. Now, we have a good car straight off the bat.”

Team Penske driver Scott McLaughlin was fourth in the No. 3 Chevrolet at 1:16.5755 (98.726 mph) followed by Hendersonville, Tennessee’s own Josef Newgarden at Team Penske was fifth at 1:16.6957 (98.571 mph) in the No 2 Chevrolet.

“Humid, very humid,” Newgarden said of the oppressive heat and humidity in Nashville. “I’ll tell you that.

“It was a pretty good session for us. We started off very strong and brought something pretty different here this weekend. I thought our starting pace was very good, then we started to get more pace with our ‘green’ sidewall tires. They felt like a normal ‘Red’ tire would when we put them on. We’ll have to keep up with the track progression for tomorrow.”

For the first time in IndyCar, Firestone is using a tire with Guayule (green) sidewalls. Guayule is a drought resistant, heat tolerant, woody desert shrub native to the American southwest. The natural rubber can be extracted from the branches, bark, and roots of guayule to produce national rubber (tires), resin (adhesives, additives for tires and diesel fuel), and a woody material called bagasse (energy, liquid fuels, building products).

Firestone is making a move to sustainable tires because Guayule can be grown and harvested in the southwestern United States.

“We are thrilled to be introducing guayule natural rubber to the NTT IndyCar Series this weekend on the streets of Nashville,” said Cara Krstolic, Director of Race Tire Engineering and Production, Bridgestone Americas Motorsports. “It goes back over ten years with an initial investment of over $100 million into the project.

“Guayule is a fast-growing shrub grown here in the United States and Mexico that produces rubber in about every area of the plant. Our Firestone Firehawk race tires made with guayule in the sidewall feature a green sidewall design that will replace our traditional alternate race tire (red sidewall) for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.”

The tread compound is the same as the 2022 street course alternate tire.

“With these race tires made from guayule, our IndyCar drivers can expect the same performance and durability as a traditional Firestone tire,” Krstolic said. “The primary tire compound and construction are the same as last year’s street course tires.”

As for Newgarden, this weekend showcases his home city, but he is making sure he maintains a focused approach.

“For me, it’s business as usual,” he said. “We’re going to continue to do what we do and if we do that, we can maximize our potential.”

Among the changes that IndyCar made, restarts, in addition to the race start, will take place on the Korean War Veterans Memorial Bridge before the entrance into turn 9.

IndyCar’s Push to Pass will be available to competitors when they reach the traditional finish line in front of Nissan Stadium.

The entrance into turn 9 has been narrowed by 25 feet – from 85 feet to 60 feet – on driver’s left to make room for suites in front of the gas station.

The result should make the corner slower and offer more passing opportunities.

The turn 11 apex has been widened by 4 feet.

The wider turn will offer better sightline for drivers.

The pit lane speed limit has been reduced from 45 mph to 40 mph.

The change adds approximately three seconds to total pit lane time.

The transitions on and off the bridge in both directions have been reprofiled and repaved to lessen the impact of the bumps.

Prior to the 2021 event, the asphalt on and off the bridges was only repaved 20 feet after the transitions.

For 2022, they were repaved over 125 feet with the goal of making the transition smoother over a longer distance.

A bump in turn 5 has been reprofiled to lessen the disturbance coming up the hill into the turnaround section of the course.

“I think some of the changes were noticeable,” Newgarden said. “In T11, leading onto the effective start straight, that seemed wider. It still narrows at the end, though. I didn’t find them to be drastically different. I think it’s globally the same track. But just some of the procedural stuff. Just restarting on the back straight is probably going to be a big difference to what we saw last year.

“Other than that, I can’t say it was that much different. It felt more similar than it did different.”

There is another practice scheduled for Saturday at 12:15 p.m. Eastern Time that will run until 1:15 p.m. Knockout qualifying culminating with the Firestone “Fast Six” is scheduled for 4:30 p.m. ET.

Peacock will stream both practice and qualifications.

Sunday’s race will be televised on NBC beginning at 3 p.m. ET.

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