By Steve Wittich
After a second straight dominant qualifying session that yielded his sixth pole of the 2021 Indy Lights season, Andretti Autosport rookie Kyle Kirkwood has closed the gap to championship leader David Malukas to three points with four races remaining.
The 22-year-old saved a set of sticker Cooper Tires and was still able to beat his closest rival to the all-important pole and bonus point that goes with it at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, a track that can be difficult to overtake on.
“Our car is absolutely on rails this weekend,” explained Kirkwood to Rob Howden to the INDYCAR Radio Network. “We came here and tested in February, and whatever we did, we figured it out. I’m really happy with the car right now.”
The pole by Kirkwood is Andretti Autosport’s 78th start from the pole in an Indy Lights race, matching Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, on top of the all-time leader board. Andretti Autosport’s first Indy Lights pole came with Marco Andretti behind the wheel on the 1.8-mile, 14-turn St. Petersburg, Fla. street circuit in 2005.
Championship leader and HMD Motorsports veteran Malukas will start beside his rival, the sixth time the pair have started on the front row together this season.
Malukas and his engineer Yancy Diotalevi did make some gains overnight, qualifying within 0.25 seconds of Kirkwood after ending yesterday’s qualifying session 0.45 seconds adrift.
“We had a good gain from yesterday,” explained the 19-year-old to the INDYCAR Radio Network. “We found those two or three tenths we needed; we just missed the peak zone. The car was much better, and I wasn’t used to the car being at that level, so I had to change my line a little bit. Because of that, even at the end of the run, we were getting quicker and quicker, and we missed zone to get those extra two-tenths to be with Kyle.
“At the same time, hat’s off to them (Andretti Autosport and Kyle Kirkwood). They found something for sure, but I think we gained on them, and I think it will be more even in the longer runs.
This track isn’t the easiest to pass, so it will be interesting.
Starting behind the championship leader are Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/HMD) and Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport).
“We always want a bit more,” said the Swede Lundqvist. “We’re here to win and get poles. Unfortunately, we weren’t able to fight for it today. I know that the team will come back strong, and the race is where the points are handed out. Hopefully, we’ll have a chance in Turn 1. I have confidence we’ll bounce back in the race.
When the green flag came out to start the 30-minute qualifying session, ten of the 11 drivers quickly took to the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course. The lone driver still on pit road was the pole winner for the first Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires, Kyle Kirkwood. There were no problems with the Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club No. 28; the team held him to save a set of Cooper Tires. The driver that is second in the championship standing took to the track with 20 minutes remaining.
After ten minutes of action, the majority of the field had turned five or six laps. The quickest of the group was Frost, with his teammates DeFrancesco and Megennis, also among the fastest drivers.
Megennis, on fresh Cooper Tire slicks, on his seventh lap of the session, went to the provisional pole with a lap of 75.7661 seconds. Kirkwood, who was on scuffed Coopers, was the third quickest driver, barely over a tenth-of-a-second behind his teammate.
With 14 minutes remaining, Kirkwood was the only driver on track, and with a lap at 75.6353 seconds, took over the provisional pole.
With all drivers on pit road for new sticker Cooper Tires, the running order on the timing screen was Kirkwood, Megennis, Frost, DeFrancesco, Lindh, Malukas, Lundqvist, Robb, Bogle, Sulaiman, and Pedersen.
The field got back on track with just under ten minutes remaining, giving them only five or six laps to improve their previous lap times.
Championship leader Malukas led the field onto the iconic road course, giving him clean air to improve his sixth-place standing.
As drivers were juggling for space, Lundqvist was the first driver to improve, grabbing the provisional pole with a lap of 75.5475 seconds.
With three minutes remaining, Frost, Malukas, and lastly, Kirkwood blitzes the field again, turning a lap at 74.8317 seconds, four-tenths of a second ahead of Malukas.
Kirkwood and Malukas went quicker on their last laps, with Malukas coming within 0.2504 seconds of Kirkwood.
Lindh and the SKF/PWR Racing/Husvarden sponsored No. 51 had his best lap time violated for violating rule 8.5.6, and will start the race from the ninth spot. That rule states:
8.5.6. Interference – If a Car has a problem, the Driver made a mistake, is on an out lap or for any other reason is not fully up to speed, Drivers must pay attention not to interfere with another Cars lap. Interference as determined by the Race Director may result in a penalty. If the situation warrants a penalty, the penalty will be loss of fastest lap of the session.
Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires Qualifying #2 Results
|RANK||CAR NO.||DRIVER||TEAM||FAST LAP||DIFFERENCE|
|1||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||1:14.6939||——|
|2||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||1:14.9443||0.2504|
|3||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||1:15.0414||0.3475|
|4||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||1:15.2521||0.5582|
|5||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||1:15.3813||0.6874|
|6||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||1:15.5721||0.8782|
|7||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Hollinger Racing||1:15.5987||0.9048|
|8||51||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Hollinger Racing||1:15.6881||0.9942|
|9||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||1:15.6895||0.9956|
|10||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports||1:15.8342||1.1403|
Race #1 is scheduled for a 12:45 pm (PT) or 3:45 pm (ET) green flag on Saturday afternoon. Race #2 is set for 10:15 am (PT) or 1:15 pm (ET).