Tuesday, June 20, 2023

INDY NXT: Blown tire derails Christian Rasmussen’s points lead

PHOTO: William Soquet, @WilliamSoquet

by William Soquet
LASTCAR.info Staff Writer

Christian Rasmussen finished last for the 2nd time in his Indy NXT career when his #6 HMD Motorsports car crashed out of the Indy NXT by Firestone Grand Prix at Road America after completing 9 of the race’s 20 laps.

The finish was Rasmussen’s first since Gateway last year, nine races ago.

Copenhagen native Christian Rasmussen is in his sixth season running the American open wheel junior ladder. He came across the pond after two seasons of Danish formula racing, capping off his career there with a third-place finish in the 2017 F4 Danish Championship while driving for Jan Magnussen. In America, Rasmussen signed with Jay Howard Driver Development in advance of the 2018 F4 United States Championship. Following another third-place season showing, he moved over to Howard’s Road to Indy program, debuting there in 2018. His rookie season saw flashes of brilliance with three wins, but he only claimed four other podiums and finished third in the season standings yet again. The 2020 season was a different story, as he won over half the races on the schedule - 9 of 17 - including the first six in a row. A championship at the end of the year meant scholarship money up the ladder, and Rasmussen and Howard spent a fourth year together in 2021, this time in the Indy Pro 2000 category. Eight wins later, driver and team were again champions. 

Since Howard does not operate an Indy NXT team, Rasmussen signed with Andretti Autosport in advance of 2022. While multiple wins followed, so did five finishes of 12th or worse, leaving him 6th in final points. He left Andretti at year end for HMD Motorsports, the newest juggernaut in Indy NXT. With six teammates to contend with, Rasmussen won at Barber and held a narrow points lead coming into Road America.

This year’s Indy NXT field is one of the most robust in recent memory. In 2019, eight drivers contested the full schedule before the 2020 season was cancelled due to a lack of entries. There were 11 full-time teams in 2021, and although field sizes fluctuated a little bit in 2022, the maximum field size was 14 cars. This year, there are 19 teams attempting the full season. Nine of the drivers are rookies, and ten - including Rasmussen - are returning to the series.

Additionally, Road America was repaved from last year, throwing an additional variable besides a field that has increased significantly in size. Rasmussen noted that it was a give and take in terms of the effects of the repave.

“Obviously there was a lot more grip so it was a lot faster. I think it was probably about the same on the tire, because we just went so much faster – it was definitely more abrasive last year. Just with us going faster, definitely wore the tires and I think that had something to do with it as well.”

Starting last for Sunday morning’s race was Rasmus Lindh. The Swedish pilot started the year as one of Rasmussen’s teammates at HMD, but left the team after one race due to funding issues. He landed at Juncos Hollinger Racing, who was looking for a driver after Reece Gold left to take Lindh’s former spot at HMD. After issues in practice, he did not turn a lap in qualifying, although his car was all ready to go for race day.

In a frantic start that saw polesitter Kyffin Simpson hit the curbs in the opening turn and drop down at least a half-dozen positions, Lindh still trailed the field, last after one lap behind 18th starter Jagger Jones. As the second lap came around, Turn 1 remained a trouble spot. There, Josh Pierson wanted the ninth spot, but Jamie Chadwick had the position. Pierson dive bombed into the corner and made heavy contact with the side of Chadwick. The contact pushed Pierson into the asphalt runoff but put Chadwick in the gravel.

While Chadwick was able to keep the car from stalling, she plummeted to last place and was a handful of seconds behind even the tail end of the main pack and about 30 seconds behind the lead. However, with a clean track, Chadwick began to make progress on Jones, who had fallen behind Lindh, coming within a few seconds after a handful of laps.

Rasmussen had just been passed by James Roe and was running seventh on Lap 10 when his car shot straight coming out of the fast, right-hand Turn 11. The left-front corner of the car made heavy contact with the concrete wall and it came to rest in the grass, terminally damaged. According to Rasmussen, the incident did not come out of nowhere.

“The tire blew in the middle of the kink, so unfortunate,” he said after being released from IndyCar’s medical hauler. “I had a lockup trying to overtake Hunter [McElrea] earlier in the race, and that obviously took a lot of pace away. I thought I could nurse it back to the end of the race, but I couldn’t. Tire blew, hit the wall and just very unfortunate.”

He was coming from the seventh spot after a hectic qualifying session. Juncos Hollinger Racing driver Matteo Nannini spun with a mere twenty seconds left on the clock, prompting a red flag. Series officials extended the time enough to give everybody one last chance at a flying lap. The crowded track did not fall in Rasmussen’s favor.

“Just bummed, I think it was a weekend that could’ve been a lot better, we got unfortunate in qualifying with the red flag and didn’t really get to put a lap in,” he said. “It put us down here, then we have to fight our way through, and then stuff like this happens.”

With the crash, Rasmussen went from being the points leader, two points ahead of Nolan Siegel, to second place, 40 points behind. The driver says that it will not impact his outlook over the remainder of the season.

“It’s gonna be the same attitude,” he noted. “I go into every single week trying to win races, trying to do the best I can. Obviously we will have to push, but we had to push anyways. We were two points in front of Nolan before, obviously now we are quite a bit behind but it’s going to be the same approach. Push to the end and see what we get.”

Lindh went off-course and was the only other driver that failed to finish. Pakistan’s Enaam Ahmed was the last driver running, and Matteo Nannini and Chadwick rounded out the Bottom Five. Jones rallied from last car on pace all the way up to ninth, although a midrace restart from Rasmussen’s wreck did help that cause.

19) #6-Christian Rasmussen / 9 laps / crash
18) #76-Rasmus Lindh / 17 laps / off course
17) #47-Enaam Ahmed / 20 laps / running
16) #75-Matteo Nannini / 20 laps / running
15) #28-Jamie Chadwick / 20 laps / running

1st) HMD Motorsports (3)
2nd) Cape Motorsports (2)
3rd) Andretti Autosport (1)

1st) Enaam Ahmed, Christian Bogle, Louis Foster, Jagger Jones, Christian Rasmussen, Kyffin Simpson (1)

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