By Steve Wittich
A dominant flag-to-flag victory by Andretti Autosport rookie Kyle Kirkwood, his tenth of the 2021 Indy Lights season, leaves the two-time Road To Indy champion on the verge of his third straight scholarship and tied with a legend.
If Kirkwood wins again on Sunday, he will surpass the season win record of ten, set by Greg Moore in 1995.
Kirkwood converted his 18th Road To Indy pole into his 31st Road To Indy win in 49 starts, an unreal win percentage of 63.3%.
“First of all, a huge thanks to all the fans who came out today,” said the 22-year-old. “It’s so nice to see so many supporters for the Road to Indy! What a fantastic race for the Andretti crew and for me; we couldn’t have asked for anything better. We did everything we needed to do; everything’s gone to plan. It’s been so much work to get to this point, so much dedication – this is one big step closer to winning the championship, so I’m ecstatic right now.”
The Jupiter, Fla. native, has now won all eight of his Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires starts, along with 12 straight/13 overall in American junior open-wheel action at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Kirkwood heads to Sunday’s 20th and final Indy Lights race with a 22 point lead and “that” close to locking down the $1,289,425 scholarship.
Kirkwood’s trip to victory lane is Andretti Autosport’s eighth straight and tenth overall win at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course. The Micahel Andretti-owned team has now won 69 Indy Lights races, moving them to within five of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports at the top of the all-time list.
HMD Motorsports veteran David Malukas came home in second place, the Chicagoan’s series-best 15th podium finish, keeping his slim championship hopes alive until Sunday.
Without push-to-pass, I just tried working the bars to try to keep up the best I could, said the just-turned 20-year-old. “I was pushing like crazy, giving it everything I could to try and end this on a high note. I was hitting dust left and right, but he (Kirkwood) never let off. It’s not over until tomorrow but it seems like it’s all but over. When he started pulling away, so much went through my head, everything from this season. Just the fact that we’re sad because we didn’t get the championship, after everything that happened in 2019, shows how far we’ve come. We’ve worked so hard and I’m very grateful.”
Joining the championship contenders on the podium was Kirkwood’s Andretti Autosport teammate Robert Megennis. The Fordham University student used a solid first lap to get to the final podium position and some stellar defending to hold off the third Andretti Autosport teammate in the top four, Danial Frost.
“We had really good pace that race – if I hadn’t driven off the track, I think I could have pressured David,” said Malukas after his ninth career Indy Lights podium. “It would have been tough to get by without push-to-pass, but I could have put up more of a fight. It was the best race pace we’ve had all year, so I’m super happy. I know we can do it again tomorrow, and even better.”
TSO Ladder Note: The 50 extra horsepower push-to-pass system was unavailable to the drivers because the finale is a stand-alone event without the additional technology brought to the table by the INDYCAR timing and scoring staff.
For the penultimate Indy Lights race promoted by Andersen Promotions, the command to fire the turbocharged AER 2.0L engines came from Dan Andersen.
After two laps behind the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires, the front row of Kirkwood and Malukas brought the field to the green flag on the front straight of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
Kirkwood, in the Road to Indy/Cooper Tires/Construction Contractors Club Dallara, sponsored No. 28, got an average start, while Malukas, in the HMD Trucking supported No. 79, got a good jump.
The two drivers arrived at the Cooper Tire Bridge and Turn 1 side-by-side, but with the inside line, Kirkwood had the advantage, grabbing the lead at the exit of the first turn.
Said Kirkwood about that first turn:
“David was ahead of me before we started rolling and held that into Turn One, but I think he thought the better of it and gave me the inside line – though I was going to charge him regardless. If we’d had push-to-pass, he probably would have been knocking on the door even more, but we were so consistent. We just have to go do the same thing tomorrow.”
Malukas, thinking he might have jumped the start and worried about a penalty, said the following:
“I tried to anticipate the start but then hesitated because I wasn’t sure if it had been too much of a jump, so I thought it was only fair to give him the inside line.”
Behind the front row, things got bogged down, with Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport rookie Devlin DeFrancesco running into the back of fellow rookie Benjamin Pedersen.
Pedersen told TSO Ladder that he suffered damage in the contact, falling from his fifth starting spot to ninth.
After the race, race control handed Devlin DeFrancesco in the PowerTap sponsored No. 17 a five-second penalty for an improper start procedure, dropping him to ninth place.
Sting Ray Robb took advantage of the chaos, moving from his seventh starting spot to fourth.
After one lap, Kirkwood’s lead over Malukas was 0.6 seconds, behind the front two, the running order was Megennis, Robb, Frost, Linus Lundqvist (Global Racing Group w/HMD), Manuel Sulaiman (HMD Motorsports), DeFrancesco, Pedersen, Antonio Serravalle (Pserra Racing/AS Promotions), Rasmus Lindh (Juncos Hollinger Racing) and Christian Bogle (Carlin).
Unlike at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Kirkwood was not pulling away from Malukas, with the gap upfront at one second after five of the 30 laps.
On Lap 5, Frost, who lost two spots at the start, moved back to fourth place after getting by Robb. The Singaporean driver had also set the quickest lap of the race to that point.
“We started third in Race 1,” explained Frost, who moved to within 12 points of Pedersen in fourth place in the championship. “It seemed like we were going to do pretty well and contend for at least a podium. It looked like [David] Malukas jumped the start, which concertina effect and messed up our first few laps. We dropped a few places back, but we could reel in some places to finish fourth.
“It looked like our pace was really good, definitely good enough to win the race. I’m quite happy with my overall driving, but not quite with how the start went. We will review it and try to figure out a better way for tomorrow. We should definitely be able to finish on the podium tomorrow. I think today was just a hiccup. We were in the right position with our pace and will look at it for tomorrow.”
Kirkwood began to stretch the lead over the next ten laps, but Frost continued to be the fastest driver, quickly catching Megennis, pressuring his teammate for the final spot on the podium.
At the halfway point of the race, Kirkwood’s lead over Malukas was a comfortable 2.9 seconds. Behind the front two, Megennis was facing pressure from his teammate Frost.
The best battle on the track was for sixth place, with Lundqvist holding off Sulaiman, DeFrancesco, and Pedersen running nose-to-tail.
Kirkwood’s lead was up to four seconds with ten laps to go. The 22-year-old championship leader was turning laps two and three-tenths of a second quicker than Malukas.
Kirkwood turned his quickest lap of the race to that point with five laps to go, growing his lead to 6.1 seconds.
Kirkwood’s lead remained steady over the final five laps, with the battles behind the leader settling down as the 30 lap race concluded.
VP Racing Fuels Grand Prix Of Mid-Ohio Presented By Cooper Tires Race #1 results
|1||28||Kyle Kirkwood||Andretti Autosport||30 LAPS|
|2||79||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||-6.4367|
|3||27||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||-9.9283|
|4||68||Danial Frost||Andretti Autosport||-12.3174|
|5||2||Sting Ray Robb||Juncos Hollinger Racing||-22.536|
|6||26||Linus Lundqvist||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||-29.4496|
|7||59||Manuel Sulaiman||HMD Motorsports||-30.6398|
|8||24||Benjamin Pedersen||Global Racing Group w/HMD Motorsports||-32.317|
|9||17||Devlin DeFrancesco||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||-36.0008|
|10||51||Rasmus Lindh||Juncos Hollinger Racing||-40.0733|
|11||11||Antonio Serravalle||Pserra Racing||-42.1848|
2021 Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires points standings headed to the final race of the year
|1||Kyle Kirkwood – r||Andretti Autosport||520|
|2||David Malukas||HMD Motorsports||498|
|3||Linus Lundqvist – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||418|
|4||Benjamin Pedersen – r||Global Racing Group w/HMD||335|
|5||Danial Frost – r||Andretti Autosport||323|
|6||Devlin DeFrancesco – r||Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport||306|
|7||Robert Megennis||Andretti Autosport||307|
|8||Toby Sowery||Juncos Racing||236|
|9||Alex Peroni – r||Carlin||228|
|10||Sting Ray Robb – r||Juncos Hollinger Racing||235|
|11||Christian Bogle – r||Carlin||216|
|12||Antonio Serravalle – r||Pserra Racing||167|
|13||Nikita Lastochkin – r||HMD Motorsports||123|
|14||Rasmus Lindh – r||Juncos Hollinger Racing||68|
|15||Manuel Sulaiman – r||HMD Motorsports||65|
The remainder of the weekend Indy Lights schedule is as follows:
Sunday, October 3
- 8:45am – 9:15am – Indy Lights Qualifying #2
- noon – 12:50pm – Indy Lights Race #2
Don’t miss any of the Road To Indy Presented by Cooper Tires action:
- download the Road To Indy TV app from the Apple App Store or on Google Play to get video, audio, timing & scoring, news from TSO Ladder and much more – you can also get Road To Indy TV via Apple TV, Amazon Video, Roku or Microsoft Xbox One
- live timing – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Pro Mazda – USF2000 – IndyCar Race Control
- on twitter – TSO Ladder – Team Cooper Tire – Road To Indy TV – Indy Lights – Indy Pro 2000 – USF2000
- on all social media channels via the #TeamCooperTire and #RoadToIndy hashtags