TORONTO, Ind. — Late last season, Christian Lundgaard was challenged by a friend of his not to shave his mustache until he wins an IndyCar race.
Many months later, Lundgaard was finally able to rid himself of his unwanted facial hair as he won the Honda Indy Toronto from the pole on Sunday in what has turned into a miraculous comeback for him and his Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing team.
Lundgaard led 54 of the race’s 85 laps around the streets of Toronto, taking the checkered flag by a 10-second margin over second place Alex Palou.
“I wasn’t really expecting it,” Lundgaard said after the race. “I knew we had a fast car, but I wasn’t expecting to be this fast and just kind of just drive around and be there.”
Lundgaard showed his car’s exceptional pace from the very getting a great jump on the race’s start, only to have it be for naught when a first-lap crash ended the day for a few drivers, including Tom Blomqvist who was driving for Simon Pagenaud who is still not medically cleared to drive after a crash at Mid-Ohio.
The early caution played into the tire and fuel strategy Lundgaard and other drivers who started on the faster and less durable green tires.
As the laps and fuel strategy wounded down towards the midway point, Alex Palou, who was riding a three-race win streak coming into Toronto, nickeled and dimed through the field eventually cracking the top ten after starting 15th.
Another caution on Lap 42 for Romain Grosjean hitting the wall shook things up as Lungaard and the drivers, like Scott McLaughlin, on his pit cycle were at an inflection point in their second tire stint.
They chose to stay out for track position, but what made that decision tough was what happened next. Another caution for contact between Helio Castroneves and Kyle Kirkwood. The collision would also collect Palou slightly damaging his front wing.
Still, this benefited Palou immensely as he decided to pit on that previous caution.
Lundgaard would pit this time, but McLaughlin would stay out for track position, but that move would end up costing McLaughlin the race as he did not have enough fuel or tires to make it to the end.
Palou, on the other hand, took advantage of the situation and was able to get into the top three and challenge for the lead.
Once McLaughlin was out of the way Palou was leading with Lundgaard following with around 20 laps to go. Lundgaard superior pace in his RLL machine allowed him to chase down and overtake Palou for the lead.
As Lundgaard pulled away, Palou would impressively hold off a charge from Colton Herta with a damaged front wing that was holding on by the vinyl covering the nose. Palou would finish second for yet another podium. Herta was third for his first podium of the year.
But, the day belonged to Lundgaard.
“I’m pretty drained from energy right now,” Lundgaard said afterward. “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.”
It’s Lundgaard’s first career win and RLL’s first win in three years, ending a long drought for the team who back in May had all four of their entries in the Indianapolis 500 on the bubble to make the race.
The win marks a huge turnaround for the team as the series heads to Iowa Speedway next week for a doubleheader weekend in the next oval races on the schedule.
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