The GMR Grand Prix was one of the most chaotic IndyCar Series races in recent memory, and the changeable conditions created a fantastic opportunities for this year’s rookie class. Four of the six finished the top fifteen, with three of those results being career-best finishes. Who shined bright through the storms at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course? Let’s break it all down in this week’s IndyCar Series Rookie Report.
CALLUM ILOTT – JUNCOS HOLLINGER RACING
QUALIFYING: SEVENTH – RACE: EIGHTH (-1)
After the heartbreaking end to his Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama, Ilott finally has a race finish to match the pace he has shown in recent weeks. He reached his second straight fast twelve in qualifying, narrowly missing out on the top six but still delivering the best qualifying performance to date in his own career and the teams.
On race day Ilott was very competitive, battling for position on track all race long. He had to claw back some positions after a late call to move to wet tires, but came home with an eighth place result. Like qualifying, this was the best career finish for both himself and the team. During the final, rain-soaked laps of the race, Ilott said visibility was minimal.
“I couldn’t see anything at the end. It was more about survival and hanging on at that point,” he said. “There was so much water and spray everywhere.
Aside from the visibility, Ilott was very pleased with the result and momentum this team is carrying.
For the team, for Juncos Hollinger, Chevy and our single-car team, a top-eight result is a big reward in this race,” he said. “What an amazing result. Let’s try and get some more.”
CHRISTIAN LUNDGAARD – RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING
QUALIFYING: EIGHTH – RACE: NINTH (-1)
It was at this track in 2021 that Lundgaard made himself known to IndyCar fans with his performance in the Big Machine Spiked Coolers Grand Prix. This year, he was able to have a top-ten finish to match the qualifying effort with his ninth place finish.
Lundgaard was one of the first to make the switch to dry tires on lap three, and ran in the top ten for most of the day. He like Ilott, complained about the visibility, even running into his fellow rookie crossing the finish line. Thankfully, everyone was okay.
“I was pretty much complaining for the last 10 laps,” he said. “It was just so low visibility. I’m grateful both of us are okay. We met each other in the medical room which is not the place I want to see him but we are both good so we have to go on next time and hope we can get it at the Indy 500.”
Lundgaard leads the Rookie of the Year standings with 64 points, putting him sixteenth overall in this year’s championship.
DAVID MALUKAS – DALE COYNE RACING W/ HMD MOTORSPORTS
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FOURTH – RACE: TWELFTH (+12)
Malukas made most of his gains in the dry stints, where he was ultra-fast on the alternate Firestone tires. After making his first pit stop on lap four, he climbed eight spots from twenty-third to fifteenth by lap 31. unfortunately, the team made the wrong gamble on lap 42 when they went for wet tires. As the rain weakened, the team quickly switched back to dry tires. Falling down to eighteenth after his final pit stop, Malukas fought his way back to finish twelfth through the rain, his best finish on a road or street course this season.
Malukas said afterwards that the race was a lot less chaotic for him as it was for some others.
“Everything went quite smoothly for us, for how chaotic the whole race was,” he said. “It was wet at the start, but once it dried up we were very competitive on the dry tires and I made moves left and right and moved up some positions. But those last couple of laps with the heavier rain, we were hydroplaning going out of Turn 11 and they were still waving it green, I couldn’t believe it. It’s an incredible feeling going into Turn One at 180 miles per hour without really seeing much you still have to go flat. Not only did we end up surviving but we also finished with a good position.”
TATIANA CALDERON – AJ FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIFTH – RACE: FIFTEENTH (+10)
Calderon hit plenty of milestones this race, calling it “the craziest race that I’ve been part of”.
Not only did she finish in a career-best fifteenth place, but she also led the first lap of her career on lap 35. Although she would have liked to have led more, she had to pit later that lap. Don’t get it wrong, Calderon wasn’t in this high of a position just because she avoided the chaos, her car had the pace and she made the most of it.
“I had a good fight with [Juan Pablo] Montoyawith [Marcus] Ericssonwith a few of the top guys which is nice to see where you are in terms of pace, so I really enjoyed that,” she said. “Unfortunately, in the last couple of restarts I got hit from behind, got in the gravel and we lost a lot of positions [seven] because I think we deserved to be a little bit higher up, but that’s racing.”
That will end Calderon’s month of May, however, with JR Hildebrand taking over to run the Indianapolis 500.
DEVLIN DEFRANCESCO – ANDRETTI STEINBRENNER AUTOSPORT
QUALIFYING: SEVENTEENTH – RACE: TWENTY-FIRST (-4)
DeFrancesco was unfortunately caught up in an incident on lap 21, as Rinus VeeKay went off-track in turn three and slid right up in front of the Canadian. With nowhere to go, DeFrancesco slammed into the Ed Carpenter Racing driver, resulting in a broken tow link. Now two laps down, DeFrancesco was behind the eight ball for the rest of the race.
“It was a really unfortunate day. I didn’t really have any other options there with that crash,” he said. “You never want to make contact with someone but there was just no way I could avoid Rinus [VeeKay]. That was the end of our day. I’m sorry to the crew because we had a great car.”
KYLE KIRKWOOD – AJ FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-SECOND – RACE: TWENTY-SIXTH (-4)
It’s rare to see Kirkwood at the bottom of these reports, but the reigning Indy Lights champion got caught in an incident on lap 54 where he was hit from behind in Turn 12 and could not continue. Before that incident, however, he ran as high as second while gambling to stay out on dry tires. He was one of the last to switch to wets on lap 43, but was set back by the decision as it was evident that they weren’t the tire to be on. Not long after he came back into the pits for dry tires again, his race was over.
“I wish we would have been able to finish the race in those wet conditions,” Kirkwood laminated. “I like running in the wet but it really wasn’t wet for any of the time that I was out there. In the beginning it was not wet enough really to run wet tires. It was sunny, drying. That’s why you saw everyone come in and put dry tires on really quickly, but it was just a mixed condition the entire race so unfortunately, we were just on the wrong end of it, it seemed like every time.”