Andretti Autosport rookie Kyle Kirkwood and his engineer Doug Zister won their second Indy Lights race of the 2021 season Photo credit: Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy

By Steve Wittich

For the second straight opening race of a street course event, Kyle Kirkwood went flag to flag to grab the victory.

The win is the second of the season for the 22-year-old from Jupiter, Fla. The victory is the 23rd for Kirkwood in 37 Road To Indy starts, giving the Andretti Autosport rookie a ridiculous winning percentage of 62.2%.

The win in the Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Detroit Presented By Cooper Tires race #1 is the 61st Indy Lights win for an Andretti Autosport driver.

After a mediocre first street course event two months ago in St. Petersburg, Fla., where he finished ninth and third, rookie and reigning Formula, Regional Americas Championship Powered By Honda champion Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports) was far more comfortable this time, hounding Kirkwood the entire race.

Toby Sowery (Juncos Racing) started third and put early pressure on Lundqvist for second place. Later in the race, the 24-year-old fell multiple seconds behind.

After the podium celebration, Sowery and Lundqvist clearly had conspired beforehand, grabbing Kirkwood and throwing him in the James Scott Memorial Fountain, jumping in after him, making for a great photo opportunity between the three drivers.

Unofficially, the top five in the Indy Lights championship are as follows:

  1. David Malukas – 168 points
  2. Linus Lundqvist – 165 points
  3. Kyle Kirkwood – 156 points
  4. Toby Sowery – 127 points
  5. Alex Peroni – 120 points

The call to fire the baker’s dozen 2.0L turbo-charged AER-prepared four-cylinder engines came at 12:05 pm. That included the Power Tap sponsored No. 17 of Devlin DeFrancesco, who made the grid after an impressive repair job by crews from all four Andretti Autosport entries.

The front row of Kirkwood and Lundqvist brought the field to the green flag after two pace laps.

As the field streamed down the front straight towards the starter stand, they were shown the yellow flag. Race control was not pleased that there was a big gap between the front and rear of the field. The race director blamed Robert Megennis, asking him to pack up sooner.

The second start was much tidier, with Kirkwood getting a good jump.

On the first green flag lap in Turn 3, Bogle spun at the exit of Turn 3. Serravalle was behind him and was able to get stopped without hitting him. Both drivers were able to continue, but Bogle came to the pit road for repairs.

After the first lap of green flag action, the running order was Kirkwood, Lundqvist, Sowery, Peroni, Malukas, Frost, Megennis, Pedersen, Robb, DeFrancesco, Lastochkin, Serravalle, and Bogle.

Kirkwood crossed the line to start Lap 4 with a 1.8 second lead over Lundqvist. The distinctive orange No. 26 of Lundqvist was being pressured by Sowery, who was within a half-second of the second spot on the podium.

After six laps of action, Kirkwood had a 1.2-second lead, just outside of the one-second push-to-pass range. The closest battle was still for second between Lundqvist and Sowery.

The top five were all within one second after eight laps of action on the 2.35-mile, 14-turn Raceway at Belle Isle Park street circuit.

As the battle between Lundqvist and Sowery intensified, Kirkwood grew the gap by a half-second.

On Lap nine, Peroni started to pressure Sowery for the final step on the podium, giving Lundqvist a bit of break-in second.

With ten laps gone, Kirkwood’s lead was 1.8 seconds over Lundqvist. Sowery, Peroni, Malukas, Frost, Megennis, Pedersen, Robb, and DeFrancesco rounded out the top ten.

The best battle on the track was between Megennis and Pedersen for seventh. The Global Racing Group w/ HMD pilot took a look at the Andretti Autosport sophomore in Turn 7, with New Yorker Megennis defending successfully.

Kirkwood’s lead at the crossed flags signifying the halfway point of the 25-lap race was a consistent 1.5 seconds.

Pederson crossed the line barely ahead of Megennis on that lap but went wide in Turn 1, sliding towards the wall at the corner exit before his Cooper Tires took hold. The Dane kept his foot in it, and the pair drag raced down the long straight to Turn 3.

Megennis had the preferred inside line, and for the second time in three corners, the rear end of the No. 24 once again slid out from under Pedersen. The 22-year-old again exhibited his quick hands, just missing the tire barrier at the exit of the 90-degree corner.

As he crossed the line with ten laps remaining, Kirkwood’s lead was still 1.5 seconds over Lundqvist. Lundqvist has some breathing room over Sowery, but not much. The Juncos Racing veteran was within a second of the second spot on the podium.

Kirkwood’s lead was barely over one second and barely out of range of push-to-pass with seven laps to go.

Kirkwood’s lead as they crossed the line with six laps left in the 25 lap race was 0.8 seconds, but on that lap, Lundqvist made an error, dropping to 1.5 seconds behind Kirkwood with five laps left.

The lead with four laps to go was 1.3 seconds.

Behind the leaders, the battles between Sowery & Peroni, Frost & Malukas, along with Megennis, Robb & DeFrancesco, were all within a second.

Over the next two laps, Kirkwood maintained his lead at over one second, but over the last two laps, Lundqvist made massive inroads, starting the final lap 0.7 seconds back. Lundqvist made up 0.2 seconds on the final lap but could not get close enough to pass for the lead.

Megennis, Robb, and DeFrancesco started Lap 23 nose-to-tail in a battle for seventh. The threesome made it through the first four corners but didn’t make it through Turn 5. Megennis and Robb contacted the No. 2 of 2020 Indy Pro 2000 champion, also contacting the wall before being clipped by the neon yellow No. 17 of DeFrancesco.

Megennis held the seventh spot until the end of the race when his teammate DeFrancesco got around him on the last lap. Robb dropped down to tenth.

Indy Lights Grand Prix Of Detroit Presented By Cooper Tires race #1 results (unofficial)

1 28 Kyle Kirkwood Andretti Autosport ——
2 26 Linus Lundqvist Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports -0.5174
3 51 Toby Sowery Juncos Racing -6.235
4 5 Alex Peroni Carlin -7.4571
5 79 David Malukas HMD Motorsports -12.0736
6 68 Danial Frost Andretti Autosport -13.4912
7 17 Devlin DeFrancesco Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport -45.0127
8 27 Robert Megennis Andretti Autosport -48.2762
9 59 Nikita Lastochkin HMD Motorsports -48.4237
10 2 Sting Ray Robb Juncos Racing -72.6774
11 24 Benjamin Pedersen Global Racing Group wHMD Motorsports -75.8372
12 11 Antonio Serravalle Pserra Racing -1 LAP
13 7 Christian Bogle Carlin -4 LAPS