Kirkwood Earns first INDYCAR Win in 48th Long Beach Race

Kyle Kirkwood performed flawlessly in front of fullu sold-out granstands at the 48th Long Beach race - Anne Proffit photo
Kyle Kirkwood performed flawlessly in front of fullu sold-out granstands at the 48th Long Beach race – Anne Proffit photo

Kyle Kirkwood ran the tables in the 48th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach, starting first in the 27-car field, leading 53 of the 85-lap street brawl on this 1.968-mile, 11-turn street race and bringing his Andretti Autosport Honda-powered Dallara Indy car first to the checkered flags on a cool, partly cloudy day next to the Pacific Ocean.

It was the driver’s maiden victory in his second NTT INDYCAR SERIES season, after driving for A.J. Foyt Racing in a Chevy-powered Indy car his rookie year. Returning to Andretti’s team, where won the INDY NXT title, Kirkwood looked human in the first two contests of the year. He executed some flying excursions in the season opener at St. Petersburg and finished 15th, three laps down. He was out by single-car contact after 97 laps at Texas Motor Speedway and finished 27th of 28 cars.

At Long Beach Kirkwood looked on the pace from the start, even though he was 11th in the first practice session Friday afternoon. He placed second in the Saturday morning practice and ruled the roost from there on out. The Jupiter, FL resident didn’t lead every session but he excelled when it mattered, in Firestone Fast Six knockout qualifying and in the race, looking way more mature than his 24 years.

Kyle Kirkwood exults after earning his first INDYCAR win – Joe Skibinski photo

This race was a Honda rout, as the locally-based manufacturer claimed the first five positions and six of the top 10. Kirkwood led Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean to the flags by 0.9907 seconds and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson by 1.0681-sec. Colton Herta was fourth for Andretti while Alex Palou claimed fifth for Ganassi. Reigning champion Will Power brought his Team Penske Chevy home sixth from 13th on the grid, followed by Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist’s Chevy seventh, rookie road/street specialist Marcus Armstrong eighth for Ganassi, Team Penske’s “bus bro’s” Josef Newgarden and Scott McLaughlin completing the top 10 for Team Penske.

With 27 cars on this grid, someone had to the last to finish; surprisingly it was six-time champ Scott Dixon, who’d amassed a streak of finishing every lap of every race for at least the past two years and into 2023 before this event. Dixon made early contact with the Turn 8 wall and then got together with Pato O’Ward in the same turn #8. After being restarted by INDYCAR’s safety team he continued through to the 37th lap when he retired, lacking oil pressure. Dixon was one of only three retirements, as Ed Carpenter Racing’s Rinus Veejay had mechanical issues that ended his day after 48 laps. Juncos Hollinger Racing’s rookie Agustin Canapino had contact, spent a large amount of pit time, completing 52 laps but did continue to continue to the 85-lap closer and Alexander Rossi, a two-time [consecutive] Long Beach winner finished 22nd, finishing “off-course” two laps down.

There were only two cautions: on the first lap, four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves went too hard into the first turn and stopped one turn later without this nose cone. He had to cede to the pace vehicle and automatically went one lap down, recovering to finish 21st from his 16th place start. The second stoppage was on the 20th through 24th laps for Dixon and O’Ward’s coming together, which has since become the talk. For a street race that’s not bad.

Kyle Kirkwood believes he’s got a great home at Andretti Autosport – Anne Proffit photo

Kirkwood credited Andretti Autosport for the team’s 1-2-4 appearance on the Long Beach podium. “What an amazing day for Andretti Autosport,” he said. “We had first, second and fourth. We all had fast enough cars to win today, ultimately it was me because I started from the pole, and we played the strategy perfectly. We had a little bit of a mishap in the middle stint where we got caught up with some lapped traffic and nearly crashed. But we overcame that. We were able to get back to the lead and everything worked out perfectly. The AutoNation Honda was on rails and the Honda power was perfect. I’m just so happy for everyone the 27 team and the whole Andretti Autosport group.”

Kirkwood has claimed championships in what once known as the “Road to Indy”: USF2000, USF Pro 2000 and INDY NXT – in successive years. “This is the calmest day I’ve had in two years and it was a win,” the victor exclaimed post-race. “I just had as moment of relaxation (after crossing the finish line), to be honest. I felt like I needed this win, and we got it today. [It’s a moment of relief, no doubt.”

After conducting two street course contests and one on a 1.5-mile oval, INDYCAR heads towards the first of two consecutive road course contests, at Barber Motorsoirts Park in Alabama and then to Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s road course before the 107th Indianapolis 500, scheduled for May 28th.

About Anne Proffit 1266 Articles
Anne Proffit traces her love of racing - in particular drag racing - to her childhood days in Philadelphia, where Atco Dragway, Englishtown and Maple Grove Raceway were destinations just made for her. As a diversion, she was the first editor of IMSA’s Arrow newsletter, and now writes about and photographs sports cars, Indy cars, Formula 1, MotoGP, NASCAR, Formula Drift, Red Bull Global Rallycross - in addition to her first love of NHRA drag racing. A specialty is a particular admiration for the people that build and tune drag racing engines.

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