Baltazar Leguizamon stripped the checkered flag from Kyle Kirkwood in the final round of the F3 Americas Championship Powered by Honda mid-season event at New Jersey Motorsports Park Sunday, ending Kirkwood’s eight-race win streak. Leguizamon, who’s been the runner-up to Kirkwood five times so far this season, crossed the stripe more than four seconds ahead of the championship points leader, claiming his maiden victory in the new single-chassis, single-engine championship.
“It’s an amazing feeling to be here. I’m so grateful to my team, sponsors and the people who are always there supporting me,” Leguizamon beamed. “It’s been a tricky weekend, but we came out on top today and that’s what matters.”
The victory battle between the two drivers developed in the second round of the weekend on Sunday morning. Based off lap times from the previous race, Kirkwood started on pole with Leguizamon sharing Row 1 on the outside for Round 8. As the start lights went out for the F1-style standing start, both pilots launched off the stripe. Kirkwood defended the inside race line as Leguizamon flung to the outside. Wheel to wheel into Turn 1, the two Ligier JS F3 Americas cars squeezed the track limits heading into Turn 2. With tires almost touching as the drivers exited the turn, Kirkwood braked and Leguizamon propelled wide to the outside to cut in to take the lead.
Kirkwood’s metallic red, black and white Abel Motorsports No. 8 Honda-powered machine chased down the young Argentinian. The two F4 U.S. alumni diced back and forth for five laps until Leguizamon’s campaign for his maiden win ended with an off-track incident between Turn 1 and 2. On the exit, Kirkwood’s front tire clipped the rear wheels of Leguizamon as he attempted to pass, spinning Leguizamon off the Thunderbolt circuit. The off-course excursion ended the Global Racing Group pilot’s run and resulted in a three-grid spot penalty for Kirkwood in the weekend finale after the race stewards decided the incident was avoidable.
Kirkwood won the round, extending his win streak to eight with John Paul Southern Jr. scoring his first second place, and Jacob Abel taking third.
“It was a different experience being up front,” Southern said. “I was able to use some of my knowledge that I learned from F4 and karting to keep Jacob at bay this race. By managing our tires, we were able to keep the ahead. Our focus is to be consistent and keep on ticking.”
For the weekend finale, Leguizamon started on pole, his second of the season, with Southern sharing the front row. The two Abel Motorsports pilots were staged in Row 2. From the start, Leguizamon commanded the lead, pulling quickly to the point. However, Kirkwood glided through the field, making flawless passes, with his sights on Leguizamon’s No. 9 Motorola Global Racing Group machine. Charging from last to second, Kirkwood stayed on Leguizamon’s gearbox until the Global Racing Group pilot went wide in Turn 10. In a very technical overtake, Kirkwood cut to the inside, squeezing ahead of Leguizamon for the lead.
As the 35-minute session continued, Leguizamon’s tires started to fall off and Kirkwood created a sizable lead from the rest of the field, until Kirkwood went sideways exiting Turn 1. Trying to recover, Kirkwood’s rear went wide, hitting the unforgivable NJMP curbing, jolting Kirkwood’s car high-sided on the curbing. The gap he created was gone, and Leguizamon flew by the stranded Abel Motorsports car to take the lead. Eventually, Kirkwood continued the race under his own power and once again attempted to make another charge from the back of the field. Knocking down top positions, Kirkwood went flat out trying to catch Leguizamon, but the race clock expired before Kirkwood could catch him, putting an end to his perfect season.
“It was a very unfortunate situation,” said Kirkwood, who hasn’t lost a motorsport race since May. “We pulled a Hail Mary on the set up to test its limits, and it went the wrong direction. Even though it made the car faster, the set-up also made it harder to steer. I wasn’t pushing too hard at the end since I had a four to five second lead, but I made a small mistake, and that’s all it takes. We can’t be perfect all the time, but I will say it was a really fun race.”
Kirkwood took the checkered second followed by his Abel Motorsports teammate Abel, who was three for three in third in his F3 debut.
“It was a very good weekend,” Abel said. “We really used the whole weekend to adapt. We weren’t too focused on results as much as we were trying to learn the car and get as much seat time as we could. To get three podiums in my opening weekend, that was a cherry on top. The goal for Road Atlanta is to maintain podium position.”
The F3 Americas drivers have a quick turnaround, returning to action Sept. 21-23 at Road Atlanta as part of the Atlanta Fall Historics Weekend. Fans can view weekend results at F3Americas.com.