After scoring the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires last season, Kyle Kirkwood is ready for the final step on the Road to Indy ladder, set to compete for the Indy Lights Championship Presented by Cooper Tire in 2020 with Andretti Autosport.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL recently spoke with Kirkwood about his thoughts entering the season and more.
POPULAR OPEN WHEEL: What are your thoughts entering the year?
KYLE KIRKWOOD: My thoughts are that I am with a fantastic team. I’m really looking forward to it; everything is set in place. I’m actually getting a lot more testing than I’ve done previously in the past couple years – like 10 times the amount of testing, so I feel much more prepared going into St. Petersburg. So I’m really looking forward to it; it should be really good.
POW: You’ve had some time behind the wheel of an Indy Lights car. What were your initial impressions?
KIRKWOOD: I have a weird thing with cars. Every time I drive them, they feel really fast for the couple of laps, but once I get into a rhythm, then it tends to go away. So it was kind of second nature for our test at Sebring, but it’s a great car to drive. Some characteristics and adjustments to the car that are a lot different than what they have been, but being a bigger car and different turbo, it creates a different driving style. So it was all a learning curve, but it wasn’t like something that was completely out of the ordinary from what I’ve driven in the past.
POW: What are your goals and expectations?
KIRKWOOD: I tend not to put much pressure on myself ever. I go into each season with an open mind, and in the past few years, I haven’t thought that I’d get to win six races in a row – or whatever it was doing it the past couple of years. I go into it thinking that it could be a race that I do not do well in, but everything happens for a reason. Of course, I want to do as well as Andretti has done in the past couple of years and try to match that with a championship win, but anything can happen. So I’m just going to do to do the best of my abilities.
POW: What track are you most excited for?
KIRKWOOD: Mid-Ohio is my track that I’ve had some of the most success at and one of the tracks that is the most fun for me to drive due to various ups and downs, and different corners that it has. That’s one track that I always look forward to.
POW: You had a pretty incredible 2019 campaign. What are your thoughts as you look back on the title season?
KIRKWOOD: Looking back at last year, it was probably one of the biggest ups and downs seasons of my career, starting early. in the first race that I had, it was early with a new team and they weren’t really sure about myself. I was confident that they would be putting me in a position to win a championship, but I went out and crashed out the first race and primarily it was my fault. So it was a really big downer there. Then we went into Indy and the worst thing happened – made a mistake going into turn one, put myself in a position that I shouldn’t have, and that was probably the lowest of my career.
I knew we had to get things turned around so at Road America, we pushed really hard to get those two wins and we just went up from there, thanks to a lot to the team. I’ve never worked with a team that was more enthusiastic than the Italian guys at RB Motorsports, so it was a really good season towards the end there. We had to really push to get it, but there were a lot of ups and downs to get there.
POW: What is your favourite moment from the 2019 season?
KIRKWOOD: That would have to be at Gateway. That was an incredible race. There was a moment where after qualifying, I was like, “man, we’re behind in points, and we’re starting dead last so what’s going to be the deficit after this?” It was one of those things where last year, nobody really made any passes, so I knew I had to do something. I got bogged up the first couple of laps, but I made a line work that nobody else was trying, and ended up coming out on top.
That was a big victory. I’m sure there was a lot of relief for me, for the team, and my engineer who made a very small mistake in qualifying to get us disqualified – which was really not performance enhancing at all, but just a misunderstanding on the rules in what to change on the car on the grid prior to qualifying. But we tackled that and came back out on top.
POW: Let’s say someone gave you an unlimited budget to design a new racetrack. What kind of racetrack would you build?
KIRKWOOD: That is a good question. It wouldn’t be an oval; I’ve always grown up racing road courses. That’s hard….. I’d definitely want to build it in Florida as that’s where I’m from and you can drive year-round here; I think that’s a no-brainer for me. I would go somewhere between COTA and Mid-Ohio on the design of it. I really like the design that COTA has with the esses and the way the facility is set-up, but Mid-Ohio – those characteristics of that track with various different ups and downs, kind of just the feeling of being out in the middle of nowhere but is kind of cool because you’re going through the trees and a bunch of blind corners.
So somewhere between those two is what I’d base the track design off of if I was to build to a track.
POW: What is your go-to karoke song?
KIRKWOOD: My go-to karoke song would probably be Staying Alive by the Beegees. I’ve never really thought about that, though.
POW: Do you have a hidden talent?
KIRKWOOD: I don’t know if it is a surprise, but I’m big into surfing. It’s something that I’ve done since I was really young, along with free diving. Underwater, I can free dive 80, 90 feet sometimes. That’s what I’ve done since I grown up. My family doesn’t come from racing at all – mostly fisherman or soccer players so that’s what I grew up doing.
POW: Would you ever do Dancing with the Stars?
KIRKWOOD: I think that’s a long ways out. I’d hold out until far down the line, but I wouldn’t want to do it. I’m far from a good dancer, so no at this moment.
POW: If you could take a vacation anywhere in the world, where would you go?
KIRKWOOD: Indonesia. I feel like that’d be a cool place.
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