By Steve Wittich
Dominant, on-rails, championship altering and effortless are all words and phrases that describe Kyle Kirkwood’s weekend at the iconic WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
“I have to give it to the team,” said the 22-year-old on the peacock broadcast after his 26+ second Sunday drive. “Andretti Autosport has been on it all weekend, and our cars have been absolutely phenomenal.
“We came here testing, and what we found here has been good. It’s given me a car where I can go out, drive my pace and focus on my driving and not have any big moments or slides, which is pretty rare for a place like this with how low grip it is and how much elevation there is.
“I couldn’t be any happier. Big thanks to all of the Andretti guys. They’ve done a super job all weekend making sure the car – even when the track changes with the NTT INDYCAR SERIES – we still got faster and faster. ”
The dominant sweep of all 64 points available during the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires Race equates to a 20 point shift and a 15 points championship lead headed to the scholarship decider at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course the first weekend in October.
Kirkwood’s ninth win of the season moves him to within one win of the Indy Lights single-season record of ten, set by Greg Moore in 1995.
The phenom from Jupiter, Fla., has now won 30 Road To Indy races in 48 starts, giving him an RTI win percentage of 62.5%!
Kirkwood is the 14th pole-sitter to win in 24 Indy Lights races at the iconic Monterey, Calif. road course.
Coming home in second place after spending most of the 35-lap race by himself on the track was HMD Motorsports veteran David Malukas, the Chicago, Ill. driver’s 14th podium of the year and 23rd of his Road To Indy career.
“In the beginning, he took off like a rocket, said the driver, who turns 20-years-old in a week, to peacock’s Georgia Henneberry. “I was looking at his line and said, ‘wow, he carried a lot of speed through there, I’m going to try it,’ and I almost went off in (Turn) 9.
“I had to back it off. I was at 90% on the tires because I didn’t want to lose the car and make a mistake like I did yesterday. So I kept the car at 90%, and sooner or later, I was by myself, and it was almost like a test day for me.
“I think we got everything we could out of it. We had a big gap over my teammate Linus (Lundqvist), so that’s a big plus.
“In the end, we’re still close, and hopefully, going into Mid-Ohio, we can get something done.”
Scoring the tenth podium of his rookie Indy Lights season was Global Racing Group w/HMD’s Linus Lundqvist, who locks himself into third place on the championship table, guaranteeing the Swede will get an NTT INDYCAR SERIES test.
Rounding out the top five were Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport) and Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/HMD), the two drivers who are fighting for fourth in the championship. Pedersen has an 18 point gap to Frost with the two races at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course remaining.
The command to fire the 2.0L turbocharged AER engines came at 10:15 am from Mike White, the AER Engine Indy Lights program manager.
A light mist/marine layer covered the 2.238-mile, 11-turn road course as the cars pulled onto the track.
On the first pace lap, Christian Bogle came to the attention of the Carlin crew on the pit road, but he was able to rejoin, almost catching the rear of the field before the start.
After two laps behind the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires pace car, a front row of Kirkwood and Malukas brought the field to green for the sixth time in 2021.
Kirwood, in the Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club Dallara, sponsored No. 28, got a slight jump on Malukas, who could not drop in behind the pole-sitter because his teammate Lundqvist had filled that gap.
Malukas remained to the outside of Kirkwood and Lundqvist and was able to slot into second place.
Frost, who started fourth, locked up his front brakes going into the Andretti hairpin but held off Pedersen for fourth.
In Turn 10, Robb took a look around the outside of DeFrancesco but dropped all four tires into the dirt, losing a spot to his teammate Lindh.
The running order after the first lap was Kirkwood, Malukas, Lundqvist, Frost, Pedersen, Megennis, DeFrancesco, Lindh, Robb, Sulaiman and Bogle.
On Lap 2, Lundqvist had his mirrors full of Frost and Pedersen.
Kirkwood’s dominance at the front of the field carried over from Saturday, pulling a 5.6-second gap over Malukas after ten laps. The gap between Malukas in second and Lundqvist in third was over two seconds.
Further back, Lindh, who had to start ninth after a penalty in qualifying, moved up to the seventh spot after getting around DeFrancesco.
After 15 laps, Kirkwood’s lead over Malukas was 8.6 seconds, with the 22-year-old the only driver to turn a lap under 77 seconds.
At this point of the 35-lap, Sunday feature ran laps over a half-second quicker than Malukas, the only driver not named Kyle turning laps in the 77-second range.
Forst, in fourth, was within push-to-pass range of Lundqvist for the final spot on the podium, but he had his mirrors full of the other orange and black Global Racing Group machine of Pedersen.
Further back in the field, Lindh behind Megennis was the only driver that was within push-to-pass.
On Lap 19, Malukas dropped two wheels off at the exit of Turn 4 but kept his HMD Trucking sponsored No. 79 pointing in the right direction.
Kirkwood’s gap to second place Malukas had grown to a massive 16.9 seconds with ten laps remaining.
Malukas was also on his own, running 8.2 seconds ahead of Lundqvist.
Behind the podium runners, the action was much closer, with the drivers running third through ninth covered by only 13 seconds.
The gap had grown to 21.3 seconds with five laps remaining, but he did have a slight tick of excitement on that lap.
In the Pelican Energy, sponsored No. 7, Bogle went for a wild ride in the second half of The Corkscrew, bounding through the gravel and reentering the track not too far in front of the leader.
While not exciting upfront, Lundqvist, Frost, and Pedersen were all close for the final spot on the podium, also, Megennis had Lindh, DeFrancesco, and Robb within 1.5 seconds of him.
Kirkwood crossed under the checkered flag 26.0555 seconds ahead of Malukas, a series largest gap in 24 races at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
In 2019 Race #1, Rinus VeeKay bested Toby Sowery by 9.8874 seconds, the largest previous gap at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca.
Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented By Cooper Tires Race #2 Results
|1||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||35 LAPS|
|2||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||-26.0555|
|3||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||-39.3152|
|4||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||-40.8857|
|5||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||-41.7672|
|6||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-48.0055|
|7||51||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Hollinger Racing||-48.5498|
|8||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-49.531|
|9||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Hollinger Racing||-50.1593|
|10||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports||-54.303|
|11||7||Christian Bogle||Carlin||-2 LAPS|
The Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires series will decide who wins the $1,289,425 scholarship to move to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on October 2nd and 3rd.