By Tony DiZinno / Steve Wittich
Kyle Kirkwood rebounded from a tough debut weekend in Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires at Barber with a dominant performance in St. Petersburg race one that more resembled his Road to Indy career to this point.
From pole, the driver of the No. 28 Andretti Autosport Dallara IL-15 led flag-to-flag in the 35-lap race to secure his first Indy Lights win and ensure he’s a winner in all three Road to Indy series.
The 22nd win of his Road to Indy career for the past USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 champion sees him just two behind Spencer Pigot (24) on the all-time Road to Indy win chart. St. Pete is a home track for Kirkwood, as he resides in nearby Jupiter, Fla.
“I got chills at the finish! This feels so good. It’s been a while since I’ve won in an open-wheel car, and we know we’re going to have momentum for the rest of the year,” said Kirkwood, whose last win in an open-wheel car came in September 2019. “We had a great start, the Cooper Tires came in really well, we got the initial gap and were able to maintain it. I was pushing pretty hard with Devlin because the last thing I wanted to do was let him get within 1.5 seconds so he could get on the push-to-pass. I was disappointed to see the yellow, especially with Devlin going out, we could have had a one-two-three Andretti finish. And Danial had incredible pace on the restart so I knew I had to do something, and I was all over the place trying to keep the rear tires under me. It was close, but we were on rails. I learned so much about this track from my USF2000 and Indy Pro 2000 races: how the track evolves, how the layout works. They’ve done a nice job over the years of keeping the layout the same, so I was able to take so much information from my years on the Road to Indy.”
Kirkwood’s Road To Indy win percentage is now an incredible 66.7%. The Andretti Autosport rookie has now won 48 times in North American junior open-wheel action.
The Jupiter, Fla. native, now has a win on all three rungs of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, making him the ninth driver to accomplish that feat.
Danial Frost stayed cool on the hot day to ensure an Andretti 1-2 finish in his DAN-JET sponsored No. 68 car. It’s the first Indy Lights podium for the 19-year-old. The Andretti Autosport rookie from Singapore now has 13 Road To Indy podiums, 16 North American junior open-wheel podiums, and 53 worldwide junior open-wheel podiums.
“We knew we had pace from the start so my focus was going forward. We made a few good passes, even if there were a few that didn’t stick. I thought we had a chance on the restart but he did a good job to stay up front. I’m happy to get my first podium of the year, congratulations to the team for the one-two finish. We need to make a few tweaks to the car, especially to deal with all the INDYCAR rubber that’s been laid down. But we know where to go and we’re starting in the same place, so if we can do what we did today, we can make it happen.”
David Malukas didn’t quite have the pace for the Andretti Autosport duo up front, finishing 2.3 seconds behind Kirkwood. The Chicago, Ill. pilot’s third-place finish is his fourth career Indy Lights podium and his 11th across the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires.
Linus Lundqvist, the points leader headed into the weekend was Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports rookie, had an adventurous North American street circuit debut, starting sixth, withstanding contact and finishing ninth. That lesson-filled finish is his worst in 20 North American junior open-wheel starts.
Push-to-pass was back available this race, with 15 pushes of 50 extra horsepower available. Temperatures for the race start were 83 ambient and 121 on track.
Kirkwood slotted away at the start as the 13 2.0L AER-powered Dallara IL-15s took the green flag on the streets of St. Petersburg. The early mover was Devlin DeFrancesco (No. 17 Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport), who made it past Malukas for second on the outside of Turn 2. Frost tried to repeat the feat into Turn 4 but was unable to do so.
Toby Sowery entered the pits in his No. 51 car and the Juncos Racing team surveyed the engine area. Team principal Ricardo Juncos told Peacock’s Katie Kiel he didn’t know what the issue was other than a loss of power. After the race, it was determined that is was an issue with the power plant. The 13th place finish is the first time in 21 Indy Lights starts that Toby Sowery has finished outside of the top ten.
On Lap 5, Frost made it past Malukas on the inside for third place. That left the Illinois native falling into Megennis’ clutches, and he darted past on the inside of Turn 4. Linus Lundqvist (No. 26 Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports) tried to follow around the outside, then inside in the tricky Turns 5-8 section, but backed out of it thinking better than to contact his teammate.
By Lap 7, Kirkwood’s gap to DeFrancesco was 2.8720 with Frost third, Megennis fourth and Malukas fifth. Alex Peroni (No. 5 Carlin) passed Lundqvist for sixth, with Benjamin Pedersen, Antonio Serravalle, Sting Ray Robb, Nikita Lastochkin and Christian Bogle the remaining runners as Sowery was stuck in the pits.
On Lap 11, Frost tried on the inside of DeFrancesco but overcooked it into Turn 1. Because he missed the apex, he fell back to the Megennis/Malukas scrap.
The Megennis/Malukas battle continued to get spicy as Malukas passed Megennis exiting Turn 14. Megennis tried back on him into Turn 1 of the next lap, and looked incredibly close but fair, but with the loss of momentum, Peroni was right behind him.
On Lap 17, just shy of halfway, there was contact between Lundqvist and Peroni at Turn 1. Lundqvist came in hot, and slightly got airborne after contacting the Carlin car’s right side tires. He pitted and fell from seventh place, promoting Peroni, Serravalle, Robb, Lastochkin and Bogle up a spot.
DeFrancesco ran into trouble on Lap 23 from second to bring out the first full-course caution of the race. He locked his left front Cooper Tire, ran wide at the entry into Turns 13 and 14 and contacted the wall straight on with his left front tire and his front wing.
This wiped out Kirkwood’s three-plus second lead. Frost, Malukas and Megennis were next with Pedersen having quietly snuck up to fifth. Lundqvist, with nothing to lose, pitted for a new set of Cooper Tires to see what progress he may be able to make.
The green flag flew at the end of Lap 26, with nine laps to go. Kirkwood got going without too much of an issue. Robb got past Serravalle for seventh into Turn 4, in a forceful but determined move. Lundqvist got around Bogle for 10th on Lap 29. He had slight contact with Bogle’s right front tire, but not as severe as with the first Carlin car earlier in the race.
With three laps to go, Pedersen spun from a solid fifth place at Turn 1. He tried to pass Megennis for fourth but clipped the apex curb and spun on entry. He then resumed after a couple donuts and avoided clipping Robb. This dropped him to 10th, a spot behind Lundqvist.
Up front, Kirkwood wasn’t headed and beat Frost by 1.3823 seconds with Malukas third, Megennis fourth and Peroni fifth. Robb was sixth ahead of Serravalle, Lastochkin, Lundqvist and Pedersen in the top 10.
The Sekady Capital/Goodheart-Firehouse Animal Centers sponsored No. 2 piloted by 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion Robb was the biggest mover during the race, gaining six spots from outside sixth row starting spot.
Unofficially in the championship, Lundqvist leads with 69 points, Malukas is seven behind and Kirkwood eight behind. DeFrancesco and Pedersen are also within 19 points.
The podium drivers recapped their races speaking to Kiel on Peacock.
“I saw them coming down the inside on the start… and after that it was clean sailing,” Kirkwood told Kiel in victory lane, as he described his race. “Dev (Devlin DeFrancesco) had that off behind me. The car was on rails. Big thanks to Doug (Zister), my engineer, JF (Thormann) and Michael (Andretti).”
Frost said, “I’m super glad to get the podium. This is one thing we were working on, and we’re very happy to get it. The team did a good job after practice one. We got a 1-2 which is great for the team. I’m happy for that.”
Malukas added, “Off the bat it was a whole bunch of bulls behind me! I was fighting for my life. DeFrancesco was on my right, and I didn’t want an Askew/VeeKay replay from 2019 (of contact). I needed to calm my head down and push forward. Everyone ended up making mistakes; Megennis, me and DeFrancesco all made mistakes at the last turn. The whole race I felt like a bit of a pinball.”
Malukas will start from pole in race two, which is at 10 a.m. ET Sunday morning.
Indy Lights Grand Prix of St. Petersburg Presented by Foundation Building Materials Race 1 Unofficial Results
|Sting Ray Robb
|Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports
|Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports
|Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport