Story By: PAUL KELLY / INDYCAR – TORONTO, ONT – Christian Lundgaard won the Honda Indy Toronto on Sunday, mixing sizzling speed and successful strategy for his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES victory.
Lundgaard, 21, from Denmark, drove his No. 45 Vivid Clear Rx Honda to a 11.7893-second victory over championship leader Alex Palou in the No. 10 Journie Rewards Honda. Colton Herta finished a season-best third in the No. 26 Gainbridge Honda.
This was the first victory for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing since Takuma Sato won the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge in August 2020. The team’s last win on a temporary street circuit like the 11-turn, 1.786-mile course around Toronto’s Exhibition Place came in June 2017 when Graham Rahal swept the doubleheader on Belle Isle in Detroit.
Lundgaard became the first Danish driver to win an INDYCAR SERIES race. He also was handed an electric razor in Victory Lane to shave the moustache he grew during the offseason and vowed to keep until he earned his first victory.
“I’m pretty drained from energy right now,” Lundgaard said. “The Hy-Vee Vivid Clear Rx car has been fast all weekend, and I said it before the race that we had a car that was fast enough to win. We pulled it off.
“This team, they do deserve this. If you look at where we were earlier this season and even last year at this point, we were nowhere near this. I’m just extremely happy for everybody right now.”
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon placed fourth in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda, the top finisher among a group of drivers who attempted an alternate strategy in the second half of the race to try to counter Lundgaard’s speed.
Two-time series champion Josef Newgarden rounded out the top five in the No. 2 Snap-on Team Penske Chevrolet.
The decisive move came on Lap 61 of the 85-lap race in Canada’s largest city. Lundgaard and Palou dueled side by side for second place behind leader Dixon – on a different fuel strategy – when Lundgaard completed the pass of Palou in Turn 3.
Dixon made his final pit stop on the next lap, handing the lead to Lundgaard. The Dane wasted no time stretching his legs under sunny skies in Toronto, building a 3.1503-second lead by Lap 65.
Lundgaard continued to build his lead over the closing laps and cruised to the finish, ending up out front for 54 of the 85 laps. That left the drama to the fight for the final podium positions among Palou, Herta and reigning series champion Will Power.
Those three drivers raced in lockstep around the tricky, bumpy street circuit for 19 of the last 20 laps. Palou’s drive to keep second was particularly impressive considering he navigated the last 39 laps with a cracked nose cone and a front wing knocked askew by wall contact in an incident also involving Kyle Kirkwood and Helio Castroneves on Lap 46.
Herta couldn’t find a way past Palou over the closing stint, and Power’s chance for a podium finish ended when he was forced to pit just before the start of the final lap to avoid running out of fuel.
2021 series champion Palou, who started a season-low 15th, extended his streak of top-five finishes this season to nine consecutive races dating back to the PPG 375 in early April at Texas Motor Speedway. The Spaniard increased his championship lead to 117 points – a gap of more than two races – over Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Dixon.
Before the closing stint, Scott McLaughlin, Dixon and Rinus VeeKay stayed out on Firestone’s guayule alternate tire longer than any other drivers, hoping to build enough of a gap and catch some luck with caution flags to steal a victory on strategy.
But those hopes vanished when the race went clean and green for the last 35 laps, as the last caution period came from Laps 46-50 when Kirkwood hit Castroneves from behind in Turn 11 after a restart, incurring a stop-and-go penalty. Lundgaard was among the drivers who made their final pit stops during that final caution period, the eventual successful strategy.
Lundgaard will split $10,000 with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and his chosen charity, Feeding America, for his victory as part of the PeopleReady Force For Good Challenge.
The next NTT INDYCAR SERIES events are the Hy-Vee Homefront 250 presented by Instacart on Saturday, July 22 and the Hy-Vee One Step 250 presented by Gatorade on Sunday, July 23, comprising the Hy-Vee INDYCAR Race Weekend doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. These will be the first oval races for the series since Newgarden won the 107th Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge on May 28 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.