Lundqvist, Palou refocus for Indy 500 qualifications
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Lundqvist, Palou refocus for Indy 500 qualifications

Linus Lundqvist isn’t quite sure what to expect when he hits the oval at Indianapolis Motor Speedway this weekend for qualifications for the Indianapolis 500.

But the rookie driver of the No. 8 American Legion Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing (CGR) knows he’s got folks to lean on if he has any questions.

“I don’t know. I’ve never done it before. I can’t even imagine what it will be like,” Lundqvist said. “Everybody just said that it’s magical. I’m just going to go in with eyes wide open and ears wide open to try to see and listen and learn as much as I can. And when you’ve got teammates like Alex Palou and Scott Dixon, I’ll have a glance over and see what they do.”

Lundqvist picked up a third-place finish in the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix on April 28 after starting the race 19th, and last weekend after starting in the same spot had moved up to eighth in the Sonsio Grand Prix. But a fuel issue with 20 laps to go caused him to lose a lap and finish 24th.

He’s currently first in the INDYCAR Rookie of the Year standings and 14th in the overall points race as he continues to bring exposure to The American Legion’s Be the One veteran suicide prevention program.

After the Sonsio Grand Prix, Lundqvist said refocusing on another race so quickly isn’t as difficult for him as it his for his crew, which has little turnaround time to set up the No. 8 car for an oval, rather than a road course.

“I think it’s easier for us drivers,” he said. “All the guys and girls who work on the car really have the tough job here. It’s a very quick turnaround, and it’s a big change going from a road course car to a speedway car, especially when it’s the Indianapolis 500. Us drivers, we just try to keep it clean and make it a little bit easier for them so they don’t have to repair anything.”

Defending NTT INDYCAR SERIES champ Alex Palou, who became the fastest polesitter in Indy 500 history last year, heads into this weekend with the momentum of another win on the IMS road course. Palou, driving the No. 10 DHL Honda featuring American Legion branding, won last weekend’s Sonsio Grand Prix by more than six seconds and currently sits atop the INDYCAR points race. The 2023 win on the same course was the first of four in five races for Palou as he took control of the points race.

But he said momentum can easily disappear in INDYCAR. “Yeah, last year was special. We got the (road course) win here, the (500) pole then three wins in a row,” Palou said. “It felt amazing every time we were on track. But it's tough. If something doesn't go 100 percent nowadays in INDYCAR, there's someone there to take the win from you. At Barber, I thought that we were in a really good position and then a yellow just took us out of the race for the win.

“I think this year it's been like that. We've been feeling that we're there, ready to fight, and didn't really get a chance until (the Sonsio GP), except St. Pete where we didn't really have speed.”

In last year’s 500, Palou already had led 36 laps and was running in the top on lap 95 when he was pinned against the wall by Rinus VeeKay following a pit stop. The nose cone on his car had to be replaced, which dropped Palou down to 28th in the field.

He was able to rally to a fourth-place finish, an achievement he said makes memories of last year’s 500 a source of pride, rather than a disappointment.

“It wasn't easy, and it wasn't amazing for us when you have chances to win,” Palou said. “But we had a really fast car and got into an accident on pit lane that wasn't our fault and wasn't in our control. From that point, we switched our game, and it was about recovering as many positions as possible. We did, from 28th to fourth, which was in my opinion as much as we could have done. I was proud of the job we did.

“I don't have bad memories from last year. I really have really good memories.”

And while Palou would enjoy starting the 500 on the pole again, it’s not the ultimate goal. “Yeah, the focus now is on qualifying, trying to get the pole. But we want to win the Indy 500,” he said. “I love winning. Every race is important. That's what I think about every day I wake up. But the 500 would mean, I don't know what it would mean, honestly. I think it's so big, it has so much history behind it, has so much potential, and it separates the drivers from just normal drivers to legends, everybody that has won it. Yeah, would be amazing to win it.

“Man, if we're able to pull that off, I think it's going to be some crazy weeks after the Indy 500. We're working towards that. We know we have a fast car. Obviously, we got the pole here last year. But the competition is tight. They never give you anything.”

This weekend’s broadcast schedule (all times ET):

·         Thursday, May 16 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Peacock).

·         Friday, May 17 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, noon-6 p.m. (Peacock).

·         Saturday, May 18 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, 8:30-9:30 a.m.; Day 1 qualifications, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. (both Peacock).

·         Sunday, May 19 – NTT INDYCAR SERIES practice, noon-2 p.m. ({Peacock); Pole Day qualifications, 3-6 p.m. (NBC and Peacock).

To learn more about the Legion’s Be the One program – including how to participate in training sessions – click here.