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Indy NXT Laguna

The Kirkwood successor vying for an IndyCar chance

The reality of winning the 2023 Indy NXT title hasn’t set in for IndyCar hopeful Christian Rasmussen, who is seeking to follow predecessors Linus Lundqvist and Kyle Kirkwood in landing a seat at the pinnacle of the US open-wheel ladder.

Christian Rasmussen, Indy NXT champion

The 23-year-old Dane picked up five wins - including both oval races at Iowa and Illinois - and three further podiums, plus five pole positions from his second season in the championship previously known as Indy Lights. He only finished outside the top 10 once in 14 starts, after a crash at Road America.

Maybe no performance was more impressive, though, than how the HMD Motorsports driver concluded his career in the developmental category, winning by almost 18s over title rival Hunter McElrea last Sunday at Laguna Seca. In capturing the title, Rasmussen joined Andretti IndyCar race winner Kirkwood as the only drivers to win championships in USF2000, USF Pro 2000 and Indy NXT – formerly known as the Road to Indy.

“I don't think it has sunken in yet,” said Rasmussen, who has also made three LMP2 appearances in the IMSA SportsCar Championship this season with Era Motorsports.

“But yeah, it's come down to a whole season's worth of hard work, from not only me but from everyone involved. My mechanics, my engineers, Mike [Maurini, general manager for HMD], everyone involved in this journey.

“It's been amazing, we've had a super good year. We've been strong from the start, first win came already in Barber [at round two].

“We've been strong all year, obviously dominant on the ovals. Just been able to show how competitive the team is, how competitive our package as a team is on every occasion that we have been able to this year.”

There were some unknowns coming into this year. As a rookie last season with Andretti Autosport, Rasmussen claimed two wins, three further podiums and one pole, but looked erratic at times and failed to close out races.

Rasmussen won the second round at Barber and never looked back afterwards

Rasmussen won the second round at Barber and never looked back afterwards

Photo by: IndyCar Series

Rasmussen made the switch over the offseason to drive for the HMD team that took new Chip Ganassi Racing IndyCar driver Lundqvist to the 2022 title. Mike Maurini knew there was plenty of talent in Rasmussen, but the reins needed to be pulled back to maximise it.

"We noticed it last year actually when he was racing with a different programme and he was having a little bit of finishing issues with some crashes and stuff like that,” Maurini said.

“It I think we've done a good job of slowing people down to go quicker and that's what we needed to do with him. We did our preseason testing. We had a few offs here and there but nothing too major.

“He did have an issue at Barber on our third lap, basically said we cannot do that anymore. And we just progressed from there to make sure that he was nice, smooth and not making many mistakes.

“At Road America there was an issue, but it was it was a result of something that happened earlier in the race when he ended up crashing; that was no fault of his.”

Looking forward, the long-awaited dream of being in IndyCar is the only thing ahead in Rasmussen's progression.

“I think it's been a long time coming,” said Rasmussen, who began his US racing journey in Formula 4 in 2018, before graduating to USF2000 the following season and winning it in 2021. “We've proved to everyone that I'm ready to make that step now.

A dominant drive in the Laguna Seca finale secured Rasmussen a title he'd led for all but three rounds in 2023

A dominant drive in the Laguna Seca finale secured Rasmussen a title he'd led for all but three rounds in 2023

Photo by: IndyCar Series

“My last year, it was a good learning year for me. But coming back into the series and doing as well as we have this year really sets a point over that we're ready to make that step.

“I couldn't have done it without these guys that are sitting beside me [Mauini, Daiva and Henry Malukas]. They kept believing in me all year long and kept me in the car. I'm forever grateful to them for doing so.

“Now I just hope that we make next year happen, get a full-time IndyCar ride. I would say that's kind of the last step of the Road to Indy; your first year in IndyCar, because we still have to go in and prove ourselves.

“I truly believe I'm ready for that now, and I think we'll have a good shot at doing so.”

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