Kyle Kirkwood celebrates his fifth pole of the 2021 Indy Lights season Photo credit: Patrick Stephan – TSO

By Steve Wittich

For the fifth time this season and the 16th time in his Road To Indy career, Andretti Autosport rookie Kyle Kirkwood will start a race from the pole.

Starting from the preferred spot on the grid isn’t the only benefit for the 22-year-old. Kirkwood left Portland with a five-point deficit to points leader David Malukas, but the pole win means that gap has decreased by 20% to four points.

“We had a test here (WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca) before the season, and we thought that everything was going to be great, and it translated,” said the Jupiter, Fla. native. “We got the set-up perfect. Our car is absolutely amazing in qualifying.”

“But we haven’t really done any long runs to know where our race car is, but we’re pretty confident with what we have. So it’s a good way to start the weekend.”

An Andretti Autosport driver will start on the pole for the 77th time since 2005, leaving the Michael Andretti-owned team only one behind Schmidt Peterson Motorsports on the all-time Indy Lights pole list.

Global Racing Group w/HMD rookie Linus Lundqvist, who is making his first visit to the California track, turned in the second quickest lap time, and for the sixth time this season, will start outside of the front row.

With two-tenths of a second of Lundqvist is his HMD Motorsports/Global Racing Group teammates David Malukas and Benjamin Pedersen, along with Andretti Autosport rookie Danial Frost.

Points leader Malukas will start somewhere other than the front row for only the fourth time in fifteen races this season.

Indy Lights qualifying got underway a little late after cleaning up an incident involving a pace car and a former Formula 1 driver. When the green flag came out at 1:34 pm, the sky was bright blue after the marine layer had burned off and the ambient temperature was 64F.

All 11 drivers quickly got on to the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course with fresh Cooper Tire slicks.

After five minutes and all of the drivers had completed three laps, Kirkwood held the provisional pole, but lap times were getting quicker and were below the morning’s times on the used tires.

At 75.6009 seconds on his third lap, Kirkwood’s lap was a half-second quicker than Lundqvist, who set his quickest lap on his fifth lap of the qualifying session.

Most drivers remained on the track, completing an average of nine or ten laps before coming to pit road for adjustments and fresh Cooper Tire slicks. All 11 drivers turned their quickest lap on their third, fourth, or fifth lap after the start of the 30-minute session.

With two-thirds of the half-hour session complete, the drivers started to get up to speed for the final pole shootout.

It took the drivers at least three laps to get back up to speed, with Sulaiman and Robb the first drivers to go quicker.

On his 12th lap of the session, Malukas moved to with four-tenths of a second of Kirkwood, as the timing screens started to light up green as lap times improved.

Lundqvist knocked Kirkwood from the provisional pole for only a few seconds before Kirkwood improved the provisional pole to 75.3525 seconds, besting the Swede by just over a hundredth of a second.

Kirkwood wasn’t done, though, with the American going even quicker on his next two laps, with the two-time Road To Indy champion saying:

“I’m very comfortable. Our Andretti Autosport No. 28 car is absolutely on rails. It seems almost effortless. I was able to get another lap time, and another lap time, and then another one, and I knew exactly where the tires were at just after that. I knew that was all we had.”

The Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club sponsored No. 28 of Kyle Kirkwood navigates “The Corkscrew” at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

Only Pederson could go quicker on his last lap, going a little quicker than Frost and moving up to fourth.

Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires Qualifying #1 Results

1 28 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport 1:15.0235 ——
2 26 Linus Lundqvist Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports 1:15.4015 0.3780
3 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports 1:15.4821 0.4586
4 24 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports 1:15.5815 0.5580
5 68 Danial Frost Andretti Autosport 1:15.5953 0.5718
6 51 Rasmus Lindh Juncos Hollinger Racing 1:15.9109 0.8874
7 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport 1:16.0095 0.9860
8 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport 1:16.1641 1.1406
9 59 Manuel Sulaiman HMD Motorsports 1:16.6593 1.6358
10 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Hollinger Racing 1:16.7524 1.7289
11 7 Christian Bogle Carlin 1:17.0608 2.0373

The first of two Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires races gets the green flag at 12:45 pm (PT) or 3:45 (ET) on Saturday. But, first, the top rung of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires is back on track for another qualifying session at 9:45 am (PT) or 12:45 pm (ET).