Lundegaard leads IndyCar test opener in Nashville

Christian Lundgaard built on his career-first NTT IndyCar Series podium breakthrough last week at Indianapolis by setting the tone 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 this week, to signify Firestone’s new guayule-based tires – the Dane clocked a fast lap of 1m15.9659s in his #30 Honda which was a relatively comfortable 0.2391s from the ground. This was the first session this season run by a Rahal Letterman Lanigan rider.

“Obviously, I’m super happy to be here again. We were there last weekend and obviously starting the weekend here is awesome,” Lundgaard told NBC Sports. “But we have qualifying and the race ahead and we have to be as efficient as we have been in the last two races, making sure everything is fine, just executing when we have the package – and now we know. that we have the package.

“I didn’t expect to be the fastest car. The lap was good, but I think the green tires don’t last long, so it will be interesting to see how they fare in Q1, Fast 12 and Fast Six. If you need to save one for the Fast Six, I think that would be the best solution.

Last week’s pole sitter Felix Rosenqvist was strong again for Arrow McLaren SP, taking second with a 1m16.2050s in his #07 Chevy, while David Malukas impressed again for Dale Coyne Racing with HMD Motorsports, posting the third fastest time at 1m16. 2366 in the #18 Honda.

While the organizers’ reprofiling work appears to have ironed out some of the dreaded bumps on the 2.17-mile urban course, bottoming and wheel hop remained a problem, while the session was interrupted by five red flags. However, most of them were relatively harmless stalls resulting from blockages in runoff areas.

The 75-minute afternoon session started under mostly cloudy skies with 88 degrees F heat and oppressive humidity, but the session got off to a slow start as most riders opted to limit their early run 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 was able to level up relatively easily late in the session.

After the rookies dominated the first 15 minutes, led by Malukas at 1m18.1595s, Tennessee’s Josef Newgarden took to the track and immediately climbed to the top with a lap of 1m18.078s, which the Team Penske rider quickly lowered to 1m17. 3855s. But just as the balance of the peloton was picking up, Dalton Kellett pulled out a brief red flag as he drove into the breakaway zone and clinched.

When the session resumed a few minutes later, the n°28 Andretti Autosports Honda of Romain Grosjean and the n°3 Penske Chevy of Scott McLaughlin joined Newgarden in 1m17. McLaughlin then pushed his teammate out of first place with a 1m16.8441. Alex Palou almost matched that a few minutes later in the #10 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda.

Rolling on the alternate tires started with around 15 minutes to go, Rosenqvist first showed the strength of the green but Lundgaard improved it moments later to 1m15.9659s on his first run on the same compound.

It was a difficult start to the weekend for Helio Castroneves, who suffered minor suspension damage after completing just nine laps, after being delayed on the track due to a misfire from his #06 Honda Meyer Shank Racing. IndyCar announced earlier Friday that Castroneves will face a six-place grid drop on Sunday due to an unscheduled engine change.

NEXT: Practice 2, 12:15 p.m. ET Saturday

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