The start of a new IndyCar season is looming with a field that will include four rookies.
Linus Lundqvist, the reigning Indy Lights champion, is without a ride for the upcoming season.
Winning the title in the final series of the IndyCar ladder system was worth a $500,000 bonus for Lundqvist to spend on an IndyCar ride. Only the 23-year-old Swede was unable to stretch the cash into any seat time.
Instead, he is watching as Sting Ray Robb and Benjamin Pederson, two drivers who finished below him in the standings last year, landed late IndyCar rides. Robb will drive for Dale Coyne Racing and Pederson got a seat with A.J. Foyt Racing.
Agustin Canapino, an Argentinian touring driver, was hired for a second car at Juncos Hollinger Racing. Chip Ganassi Racing hired Marcus Armstrong, a former Ferrari driver who spent last season in Formula 2, to race on road and street courses.
“I believe that I deserve a seat, and he beat me, so…” Robb said Tuesday about the strange situation.
Robb actually landed his ride with Coyne after a chance offseason encounter with Lundqvist at the gym: Robb assumed Lundqvist had the Coyne seat, learned in that conversation it wasn’t a done deal, and got his agent immediately on the case.
“Linus does deserve a seat. His on-track performance was incredible,” Robb said. “But it takes more than just a good driver to get into IndyCar. You’ve got to have a village around you that supports you. And so I think that that’s where my group made a difference—it wasn’t just my performance. I do feel bad for Linus.”
IndyCar begins its preseason testing this week without Lundqvist, who spent the last two weekends roaming Daytona International Speedway looking for an open seat.
Any open seat.
“Teams obviously need money to run and I am not a driver that brings money,” Lundqvist told The Associated Press. “I understand the business. But it doesn’t mean that it hurts any less. I still believe that we deserve a shot.”
Lundqvist won five of 14 races last year in pursuit of the scholarship money that many drivers rely upon to help fund their promotion into elite IndyCar. Instead, the open rides went to his Lights teammate Pederson and Robb, who drove for Andretti Autosport. Pederson and Robb only won once each last season.
Lundqvist said there have been discussions with IndyCar to defer his bonus money a year if he’s unable to use it in 2023. Penske Entertainment has overhauled Indy Lights for 2023 and will call the series Indy NXT. The champion will now receive a little over $800,000.
“They tell me I just won the title the wrong year,” Lundqvist said.
Kyle Kirkwood won the title in 2021 and will drive for Andretti Autosport this year. Previous Lights champions include Josef Newgarden, a two-time IndyCar champion for Team Penske, and Pato O’Ward, a rising star with Arrow McLaren.
“I’m trying to find something. Anything really, but I think the full-time racing option this year is gone,” Lundqvist said. “The best case is that I can put together maybe a couple of races, and if I do well, then maybe it can lead to something more. It’s not easy to come by these seats and it’s a very tough way to start the year.”