Kyle Kirkwood augmented his hopes of completing a sweep of the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder with another imperious performance at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Kirkwood, 22, from Jupiter, Fla., thoroughly dominated the second leg of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires for Andretti Autosport to secure his ninth victory of the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season — one shy of the all-time single-season record established by Greg Moore in 1995.
Kirkwood, who convincingly won the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship in 2018 and added the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires crown one year later, now holds a handy 15-point margin over David Malukas (HMD Motorsports) in his quest to become the first driver to claim all three Road to Indy titles. At stake this year is a scholarship valued at $1.3 million to guarantee entry into a minimum of three NTT IndyCar Series races in 2022, including the Indianapolis 500.
Victory today was Kirkwood’s 30th in just 48 Road to Indy starts.
Malukas finished a distant second, well clear of Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports stablemate Linus Lundqvist.
Kirkwood set up his emphatic performance by snaring his sixth Cooper Tires Pole Award during qualifying on Saturday morning. After entering the weekend with a five-point deficit to Malukas, Kirkwood accelerated cleanly into the lead at the start and simply drove away into the distance.
He completed the first lap around the challenging 2.238-mile road course an astonishing 1.8 seconds clear of his nearest rival, Malukas, then hammered home his mastery by extending his advantage on every lap except the final one before taking the checkered flag some 26.0555s clear. It was one of the most dominant drives in Indy Lights history dating back to 1986.
“This was one weekend where there were so many uncertainties coming in, and it turned out to be our best weekend of the entire season,” said Kirkwood. “It’s super important to get back into the lead, especially going into Mid-Ohio, a track that we’re very confident at. We’ll soak this one in, this was crucial.
“We didn’t sit comfortably overnight. We made a lot of changes on the car. It’s important for the team — they’ll be coming here for years to come so they know how the car adapts through the sessions. We just kept getting the car better and better. We had a really good race car and as the race went on, the car and the tires stayed with us. We had the car this weekend; we were the guys to beat. Andretti hasn’t been super strong here in the past but in testing earlier this year, we really found something and that showed today.
“But there’s no sense of relief or confidence regarding the championship. HMD was fast toward the end of the weekend there earlier this year and it’s another track where passing is tough so qualifying will be everything. I expect HMD to keep catching up quickly and I know they’ll keep after it.”
Malukas couldn’t hold a candle to Kirkwood today but he still trounced Lundqvist, who eventually finished more than 13 seconds in arrears.
“This was a really up-and-down weekend,” said Malukas. “We struggled yesterday, with the big mistake I had. I was pushing and trying to get everything I could out of the car because I could see Kyle driving off into the distance. So today, we knew they had the pace so we made an educated guess on some setup changes, but we didn’t have enough for him. He took off at the start and was able to pull a 26-second gap, which is a lot. I had to just focus on myself and get everything we could out of it, for the points today and with data for next year. I tried different bar setups, different lines — there was no one in front and no one behind, so I could put the time in. But at least it is a good track to be by yourself on — I was certainly never bored out there!”
Kirkwood’s Andretti Autosport teammate Danial Frost remained in touch with Lundqvist throughout the 35-lap race and was unable to shake off Benjamin Pedersen, who scored another top-five finish in the second Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15.
Rasmus Lindh completed a strong second weekend in an Indy Lights car for Juncos Hollinger Racing by rising from ninth on the grid to finish seventh and earn the Tilton Hard Charger Award.
The Indy Lights season will conclude in two weeks time, October 2-3, at Mid-Ohio.
Provisional championship points after 18 of 20 races:
1. Kyle Kirkwood, 488
2. David Malukas, 473
3. Linus Lundqvist, 403
4. Benjamin Pedersen, 322
5. Danial Frost, 304
6. Devlin DeFrancesco, 294
7. Robert Megennis, 285
8. Toby Sowery, 236
9. Alex Peroni, 228
10. Sting Ray Robb, 218