DETROIT, Mich. – The battle for this year’s Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title-chase and a scholarship valued at almost $1.3 million to move up to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in 2022 has intensified following an impressive double victory for Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood in this weekend’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit Presented by Cooper Tires.
Swedish pole-sitter Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports) had to be content with second after losing out to Kirkwood at the start, although second place still was enough to vault him into a scant one-point lead in the championship over HMD Motorsports teammate David Malukas.
Malukas, from Chicago, Ill., continued his strong fight-back following a crash early in practice on Friday by finishing third, while Kirkwood’s third victory of the season moved him to within four points of Lundqvist.
Kirkwood’s latest victory, his 24th on the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires open-wheel development ladder, coming on top of winning titles in the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship (2018) and the Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires (2019), tied him for most wins overall with Spencer Pigot, who also won 24 times en route to titles in Indy Pro 2000 (2014) and Indy Lights (2015).
Qualifying for the eighth round of the 20-race season yesterday morning had been brought to a premature conclusion following a single-car incident involving Italian-Canadian Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), which assured Lundqvist of his third Cooper Tires Pole Award. Malukas, also a three-time pole winner, lined up second ahead of Kirkwood, who had been on a quick lap when the red flags were displayed.
Undeterred, an aggressive start by Kirkwood saw him sweep inside Malukas for second place on the entry to Turn One. Then, halfway around the second lap on the extremely bumpy and challenging 2.35-mile The Raceway on Belle Isle Park circuit, Kirkwood drew alongside Lundqvist on the back straightaway before grasping the lead before the right-handed entry to Turn Seven. It was a bold maneuver which ultimately proved decisive.
The three leaders had distanced themselves from the rest of the field in the early stages, but their advantage instantly disappeared after seven laps due to a full-course caution when Carlin’s Australian charge, Alex Peroni, found the tire wall in Turn Three while attempting to pass Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport), from New York, N.Y., for seventh.
Kirkwood once again asserted his superiority at the restart, posting a series of fastest laps to extend his lead to 2.4 seconds with less than 10 laps remaining. Behind, the battle for second continued with unabated intensity as Lundqvist, Malukas and Englishman Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing), who had moved expertly from sixth on the grid, jockeyed for position.
There was one more sting in the tail when the yellow flags flew again with four laps remaining after Singapore’s Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) was caught out by the bumps in Turn 11 and made heavy contact with the retaining barriers while running fifth.
The cleanup left time for just a one-lap dash for the checkers, and while Lundqvist attempted to make a move on Kirkwood into Turn One as the green flags waved, the Jupiter, Fla., native was up to the challenge, maintaining his lead and eventually crossing the finish line just over one second clear of the Swede.
Malukas and Sowery followed close behind in third and fourth, with Malukas gaining some consolation for losing his championship lead by earlier posting a new Indy Lights lap record of 1:21.4559, an average speed of 103.860 mph.
Frost’s late mistake allowed DeFrancesco to move into fifth, capping a fine charge from ninth on the grid, although it wasn’t enough to prevent Carlin rookie Christian Bogle, from Covington, La., from securing his second Tilton Hard Charger Award of the year after starting in 12th and finishing a season-best seventh. Bogle’s effort was especially meritorious given that he had overtaken three cars following a quick spin earlier in the race.
The championship battle will continue next weekend with another pair of races, once again in concert with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES, at scenic Road America in Elkhart Lake, Wis., on June 19/20.
Provisional championship points after 8 of 20 races:
1. Linus Lundqvist, 191
2. David Malukas, 190
3. Kyle Kirkwood, 187
4. Toby Sowery, 146
5. Devlin DeFrancesco, 130
6. Alex Peroni, 128
7. Danial Frost, 119
8. Benjamin Pedersen, 113
9. Robert Megennis, 109
10. Sting Ray Robb, 94
Kyle Kirkwood (#28 Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors’ Club-Andretti Autosport Dallara-AER IL-15): “The goal was to get behind David in the first corner – the marbles are bad offline so I knew that if I got my nose under him, he would be in the marbles. That was crucial for the win, with David and again with Linus. It’s extremely important to have gotten both these wins this weekend. We came into this weekend knowing we’d be strong and we kept that momentum. I wish we’d gotten that second pole, but to get the two wins is fantastic. We know how hard it is to pass, everyone is just so close, so to get the win from third shows how strong we are. We started the weekend 27 points down so to be four points out is a good result. But this track has been phenomenal: I really like street courses, it reminds me of my karting days where you’re up against the wall, it’s really bumpy, and you just have to drive what you have.
(On tying Spencer Pigot for the most wins on the Road to Indy): “It’s a good feeling. It goes back to all the teams I’ve been with – not just Andretti Autosport, but Cape Motorsports (in USF2000) and RP Motorsports USA (Indy Pro 2000) as well. We took off in USF2000 and it just continued in Indy Pro 2000. We’ve had some good seasons and hopefully we get more wins here – but I’m not looking back, I’m looking toward getting more wins now because wins get championships.”
Linus Lundqvist (#26 HPD/Global Racing Group/FX Airguns/Paytrim/JULA-Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15): “You always want to win, that’s how you win a championship. Unfortunately, we just didn’t have enough today, Kyle took off like a rocket. We tried to reel him in but the yellow came out and it was back to square one. Good job to him, that was an impressive win. Two second-place finishes, that’s not a bad weekend. I did the best I could today, it just wasn’t enough, so we’ll do our homework and come back stronger next weekend. We only have a one-point lead, which isn’t much – this championship is so close, you need every point you can get.”
David Malukas (#79 HMD Trucking-HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15): “My team came on the radio to tell me I wasn’t very good with my reaction time, but I had a big wheelspin (at the start). I knew Kyle was right there and I had to give him room – and then he took off like a rocket, he was just gone. It’s tough to pass here, especially with all the bumps and the short straights. We were able to salvage some good points today after my mistake in the first practice, and the team did a great job to get the car back together. It was the first time here for everyone and I missed most of the practice so it was catch-up all weekend. We got closer all weekend and I was happy with how things turned out in the end.”