By David Morgan, Associate Editor
NASHVILLE – Fresh off his first NTT IndyCar Series podium finish last weekend, Christian Lundgaard rolled right into Nashville and was fast once again, topping the board in Friday’s first practice session for the Big Machine Music City Grand Prix.
Even without racing at this track last season, Lundgaard seemed unfazed by the treacherous Nashville layout, as he jumped to the top of the timing sheet late in the 75-minute session with a lap of one minute, 15.966 seconds, where he would remain until the clock reached zero.
“I must say I wasn’t really expecting to be up here this far up today, never having been here before, show up and the pace was there. You see Malukas was in P3 as well,” Lundgaard said.
“I think just the rookie field this year is quite strong. For me, Toronto, the car was good, which was the last street circuit. Coming here we were expecting to have a better package. It seems like the package is there.”
Felix Rosenqvist was second-fastest in practice, looking to build on his speed from the previous street course race in Toronto, where he captured his lone podium finish of the season.
“It’s good to be back in Nashville,” Rosenqvist said. “I kind of forgot how bumpy it is out there. Definitely takes a few laps to get into it.
“It’s fun. I love this track. It feels a bit different compared to last year. Took a little while to kind of get up to speed. But, yeah, it was great to start the weekend strong.
“I think it’s very early, though. The track is still going to rubber in a lot. A lot of people are going to find speed. Seems to be kind of like a messy session in general.
“Coming out P2 in first practice, again, it shows that we haven’t gotten into this whole thing too much, and we’re focused on the job. We’re ready to go kick some ass.”
Another driver in the rookie contingent, David Malukas, ended practice in third, followed by Scott McLaughlin in fourth, and hometown hero Josef Newgarden rounding out the top-five.
“Very good,” Malukas said of his session. “All the changes we made went in the right direction. Especially when we put the alternate tires on, it went surprisingly well. I would say surprising, but in some ways it’s not surprising. I think the team has done a really good job to make sure the car is ready from the bat.
“At the beginning of this season, we kind of had to work our way towards finding a car by the time qualifying comes, but now we have a good car straight off the bat.”
Newgarden noted that coming into his home race, where he finished 10th last season, he wanted to bring a better performing car this time around to hopefully be better situated to battle for the victory on Sunday.
“I felt like this was one of our weakest tracks last year,” Newgarden said. “We came here, after the year, if we were going to do something totally different anywhere, I thought it was Nashville. I kind of felt like we needed to.
“I find it doesn’t fully relate to any other street course, I really do. I think it’s a very unique street course relative to the others. Probably from the outside it seems similar, but it’s a very tight track, very low speed, particularly the downtown section, you’re just not going very fast for a long period of time. I think what’s required on the car is different than a Long Beach or a St. Pete.
“When we were on the sim, I was like let’s come up with something different. We were struggling for speed last year. You could tell from the whole weekend we were behind, behind, behind. We tried a very different approach.
“Typically street courses will keep a similar car, change things for the characteristics of each track, but the global setup is different. Here it’s a 180.”
The remainder of the top-10 fastest drivers went to last weekend’s race winner Alexander Rossi, Will Power, Colton Herta, Alex Palou, and Romain Grosjean.
With one practice down, drivers and teams will regroup overnight before getting back on track for practice and qualifying on Saturday. Practice will be a 45-minute session at 12:15 pm ET, leading into qualifying at 4:30 pm ET.