By Diane Swintal
Linus Lundqvist knows what lies ahead, as he nears his goal: to join the ranks of Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires champions and realize the culmination of years of hard work climbing up the junior open wheel ranks.
The 23-year-old Swede had a front-row seat to last year’s epic championship battle between his HMD Motorsports teammate David Malukas and Kyle Kirkwood that included a split of the two races at Portland. Lundqvist has also watched the pair make an impact this year in their rookie NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, highlighted by the first series podium for Malukas two weeks ago at World Wide Technology Raceway.
Lundqvist looks to follow that trajectory in 2023, once he clinches the series championship title – and the scholarship that will help him take the final step on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires ladder. He enters the Portland Grand Prix weekend with a 108-point lead over Matthew Brabham, with the Indy Lights race scheduled for 10:20 a.m. on Sunday.
With a doubleheader scheduled next weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Lundqvist needs to leave Portland with a 109-point lead to clinch the championship outright. But that scenario is not a given – Lundqvist might be one of only four drivers in the field with Indy Lights experience at Portland, but three of the five rookies have raced there in other Road to Indy series.
Hunter McElrea swept both Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship races in 2019, while Rasmussen earned a podium finish behind McElrea in race one. Jacob Abel competed in the pair of Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires races that year (with Sting Ray Robb and Daniel Frost earning podiums that year as well.).
Still, Lundqvist should definitely be considered the favorite this weekend, both for race wins and for the title clinch, after a breakthrough season that has seen him take wins on all three types of circuits the series runs on – road courses (Barber and Indianapolis), street courses (a sweep of both wins at Detroit and a win at Nashville) and ovals (Iowa – though a post-race penalty for avoidable contact cost him the victory).
With five wins, seven pole positions and eight podium finishes in 11 races, Lundqvist has earned the notice of the INDYCAR paddock. But perhaps the seminal moment of his 2022 season occurred at WWTR: battling Matthew Brabham for the win, Lundqvist recognized that Brabham had the better car, and seemed content to pace his rival to the checkered flag – instead of risking the kind of late-race contact that earned him the penalty at Iowa. With all of the Indy Lights races conducted alongside (and most often, just before) the INDYCAR races, team owners know that Lundqvist is ready for his graduation.
Behind Lundqvist in the points is Brabham, who returned to the series this year to earn that same kind of notice. The patience and confidence exhibited by the Andretti Autosport driver has grown throughout the season, as he hopes team owners will aid him in his quest to return to the INDYCAR fold. Global Racing Group’s Benjamin Pedersen also looks to make the jump in 2023 as he works to score his long-awaited first Indy Lights victory over the final three races of the season.
The way forward is less clear for the remainder of the field. Andretti Autosport’s McElrea, the California-born, Australia-raised New Zealander, leads the rookie standings this season, with two victories, three poles and six podiums. Whether he and his supporters can put the budget together for 2023 remains to be seen but if he does return to Indy Lights, he would go to the top of the championship contender list – a list that looks to contain a good number of drivers graduating from Indy Pro 2000. (Update: Thursday morning, Andretti Autosport announced that McElrea would return to the team in 2023)
2021 Indy Pro 2000 and 2020 USF2000 champ Christian Rasmussen has been a mystery this season. Never one to be involved in incidents in his three previous seasons on the Road to Indy, Rasmussen has found himself outside the top 10 in five races this year. Of the six races he has finished, he has scored three podium finishes, including a victory at Road America. One can only hope that he will be able to return to the series – and to Andretti Autosport – in 2023. Similar scenarios exist for much of the remainder of the field, including Robb, Frost, Abel, Kyffin Simpson, Christian Bogle, James Roe and Antonio Serravalle. Ernie Francis, Jr., competing this season with Force Indy as part of Penske Entertainment’s Race for Equality & Change, has begun to see the light at the end of the tunnel in his first season of open-wheel racing, hopefully deserving of a sophomore season to continue that learning curve.
A few more random Indy Lights notes from Steve
First, a big welcome and thank you to Diane Swintal, who is jumping to help with TSO coverage this weekend. I (Steve) will be joining NBC again, and we couldn’t think of a more passionate and knowledgeable person to help Patrick with Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires coverage this weekend.
The Indy Lights Grand Prix of Portland will be the 21st Indy Lights race contested at Portland International Raceway. That ranks sixth on the all-time list.
Previous Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires winners at Portland International Raceway
|2021 Race #2||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport|
|2021 Race #1||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports|
|2019 Race #2||Toby Sowery||HMD Motorsports|
|2019 Race #1||Rinus VeeKay||Juncos Racing|
|2018 Race #2||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2018 Race #1||Patricio O’Ward||Andretti Autosport|
|2001||Damien Faulkner||Dorricott Racing|
|2000||Jason Bright||Dorricott Racing|
|1999||Phillipp Peter||Dorricott Racing|
|1998||Guy Smith||Johansson Motorsports|
|1997||Hideki Noda||Indy Regency Racing|
|1996||Gualter Salles||Brian Stewart Racing|
|1995||Greg Moore||Forsythe Racing|
|1994||Andre Ribeiro||Tasman Motorsports|
|1993||Franck Freon||John Martin Racing|
|1992||Frank Freon||Landford Racing|
|1991||Eric Bachelart||Landford Racing|
|1990||Paul Tracy||Landford Racing|
|1989||Tommy Byrne||Landford Racing|
|1988||Tommy Byrne||Opar Racing|
An Indy Lights race winner in Rose City has won the championship four times. That list includes the following drivers: 1990 (Paul Tracy) – 1995 (Greg Moore) – 2018 (Pato O’Ward ) – 2021 (Kyle Kirwood).
The pole sitter has won 55% of the 20 Indy Lights races at Portland International Raceway, including three of the six races since the series returned in 2018.
The average starting spot of the winner is 2.1, and the lowest a winner started the race was seventh (Pato O’Ward in his championship-clinching win in 2018).
The average finishing position of the pole-sitting driver is 2.4, with Ryan Norman’s eighth place finish the worst.
Twelve of the 20 Indy Lights races have had a first lap caution.
A half-dozen of the races have run caution free.
Linus Lundqvist is the only driver to complete every lap this season.
% of laps completed during the 2022 Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season
|RANK||DRIVER||% OF LAPS|
|5||Sting Ray Robb||99.5%|
|6||Ernie Francis, Jr.||98.6%|
|13||James Roe, Jr.||83.2%|
With 207 points and wins at Barber Motorsports Park and on the IMS Road Course, Lundqvist leads all drivers through the first five natural terrain road course races of the 2022 Indy Lights season. Behind him, a trio of drivers is separated by a single point.
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires Road Course Points after five of eight races
|2||Sting Ray Robb||177|
|2||Christian Rasmussen – R||177|
|4||Hunter McElrea – R||176|
|9||Kyffin Simpson – R||116|
|11||Ernie Francis, Jr. – R||106|
|13||James Roe, Jr. – R||95|
Penske Entertainment and INDYCAR brought back prize money this year. So far, Linus Lundqvist and HMD Motorsports with Dale Coyne Racing have led the way, cashing in $145,000 in prize checks in the first 11 races of the year.
Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires prize money won in 2022
|4||Sting Ray Robb||$75000.00|
|10||James Roe, Jr.||$0.00|
|15||Ernie Francis, Jr.||$0.00|
That’s a hefty chunk of change and will certainly make taking a good driver that is a little short of an entire budget a less risky gamble.