By: Ashley McCubbin
After winning the Indy Lights Championship last season on the last step of the Road to Indy, Kyle Kirkwood is ready for the next step of his career, set for the NTT IndyCar Series with A.J. Foyt Racing in 2022.
“I’m at a loss for words because I’m ecstatic,” he told media on Wednesday. “It’s been my entire career building up to this moment, all the way from karting. I started when I was four years old, and I’ve always had dreams of making it to INDYCAR, racing the Indy 500 and competing for a championship, and to do it with a legendary team like AJ Foyt Racing is absolutely incredible.”
Kirkwood was originally believed to be making the jump with Andretti Autosport; after all, he won the Indy Lights title with them. However when the window closed and he began to look elsewhere as of November 1, Foyt became the perfect fit.
“We actually had a handful of INDYCAR teams interested, even some stuff over in Europe, so I definitely would have ended up something full-time,” he said. “The way everything came to fruition, I think it was the absolute perfect, perfect moment with a fantastic team where I could go in and also learn in kind of a low-pressure environment but also build up. There’s a lot of aspirations throughout the team and with new people coming in where I think we can create something pretty massive.”
Before leaving Andretti, though, he was able to gain some experience behind the wheel of an IndyCar, through three separate test sessions.
“So the biggest takeaway I had from it is kind of how much different you can set up the car and still go fast,” he told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “We did two setup changes with the car, which I kind of got embedded in my mind, where one was super oversteery and one was super understeery and they both came out kind of the exact same way. That was a big takeaway that I took from it.
“Fortunately Andretti was very open to me on how they were doing setup and what they wanted to try to use me as more of a development driver than just evaluating me, and that was for all the tests with Sebring, Barber and Indianapolis.”
Kirkwood will hope to follow in the likes of Colton Herta and Pato O’Ward, and assert himself as one of the other young faces to watch – with the Indy Lights experience paying off, hopefully.
He notes being able to experience the various tracks last season will be beneficial, and feels give him a solid grasp on everything.
“I think like I mentioned previously, the Indy Lights car and the INDYCAR are quite similar, a lot of brake points and just overall lines on track are very similar,” he explained. “Being able to take that knowledge from Lights and bring it into INDYCAR I think eliminates some of a learning curve where we don’t have a ton of time on track, where I can kind of just take that and just instantly start working on development with the car and trying to progress and get the balance right.”
As mentioned, this is also just the next step in his racing career, that has seen him rise to the occasion in each previous step. He was runner-up in the Mazda Road to Indy Shootout in 2016, won the USF2000 Championship in 2018, Indy Pro 2000 Championship in 2019, and now the Indy Lights title.
Looking back on last season, he said the race at Portland stood out the most.
“We started fourth, and I was able to make a pass early on and have a double pass on both Linus Lundqvist and David Malukas for the lead where they were definitely superior to us all weekend long, but we were able to pull off a win,” he recalled. “I think if it wasn’t for that, we might have not won the championship.”