LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Kirkwood won the first pole of his IndyCar career on Saturday with a flying fast lap around the downtown streets of Long Beach — giving the series three different pole winners through the first three races of the season.
The Andretti Autosport crew erupted in celebration when Kirkwood, a 24-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, returned to his pit stall. He was immediately congratulated by teammate Romain Grosjean and team owner Michael Andretti.
Kirkwood, in his second season of IndyCar, will lead the field to green Sunday in the most prestigious street course race in the United States.
“I am just ecstatic at the moment,” Kirkwood said. “I couldn’t be happier with this, the third weekend with the team.”
Kirkwood was part of the Andretti development system but after winning the Lights championship in 2021 had to leave the organization because it didn’t have an IndyCar seat for him to be promoted. So he spent last year with AJ Foyt Racing until Andretti could bring him back this season as the replacement for Alexander Rossi.
“He’s the real deal, I can tell you,” Andretti said. “He’s been a pleasure on the team, we really enjoy him.”
Andretti two weeks ago made a strategist change for Kirkwood and Colton Herta, swapping team leaders ahead of the race at Texas Motor Speedway. Kirkwood was given Bryan Herta, Colton’s father, who has guided two different drivers to Indianapolis 500 wins.
“Right now it’s working out really well,” Andretti said. “Bryan being on his radio will be a lot more beneficial for Kyle and the organization. He’s great for a young driver and he helped Colton when he started out. We just felt it was better for the team.”
Marcus Ericsson, winner of the season-opening race, qualified second for Chip Ganassi Racing and was followed by Grosjean. Ganassi drivers Alex Palou and Scott Dixon qualified fourth and fifth as Honda drivers took the top five spots.
Pato O’Ward, the IndyCar points leader after back-to-back runner-up finishes to start the season, qualified sixth and was the only Chevrolet to advance into the “Fast Six” round. O’Ward had dominated every session until the final round of qualifying, when he seemed to lock his tires and fell out of pole-winning contention.
No Team Penske cars advanced into the Fast Six round of qualifying. Will Power was eliminated in the first round, Scott McLaughlin was eliminated in the second round and defending race winner Josef Newgarden was bounced in the final minute of the third round.
Newgarden will start eighth on Sunday.
Also knocked out of the third session was Colton Herta, who won at Long Beach in 2021 and dominated the weekend last year until he crashed out of the race.
Callum Ilott demanded IndyCar pay for damages to his No. 77 Chevrolet after he crashed in practice Saturday because a piece of curbing that had been added to the track overnight.
The curbing was not present in Friday’s opening 75-minute IndyCar practice because it had been damaged in an earlier session with sports cars on track. The curbing was reinstalled overnight, but teams apparently were not informed of the alteration.
“I was doing the same line as (Friday). I don’t understand what happened, but I took off when I hit the curb,” Ilott said. “And if they didn’t tell us (about a change), then they can pay for the damage, because that’s a joke. It sets everyone on the back foot.
“I’m sorry to everyone on the team, but again, I was just doing the same thing as (Friday). If they changed something and didn’t tell us, what can I do about that?”
Ilott took to Twitter to demand an explanation from IndyCar and the race promoters for the track alteration that also caused Rinus VeeKay to crash.
“Preferably before the session next time. Saves everyone from broken wrists and tens of thousands in damage,” Ilott said in the tweet he later deleted.
The curbing was present during Thursday’s track walk — when teams and drivers walk the course examine it — and was part of the course for last year’s race. Because the curbing had been there for all teams to see on Thursday, IndyCar did not feel it was necessary to notify teams about the overnight change.
However, teams were informed about new paint around the pit exit and Turn 1 to better delineate the boundary lines.
BUMPING IS BACK
There will be bumping in qualifying for the Indianapolis 500, with a 34th entry confirmed for driver RC Enerson.
Enerson, who failed to qualify for his first Indy 500 two years ago, will race with current Indy NXT team Abel Motorsports.
Only 33 cars make the Indy 500 field, so the Enerson effort ensures at least one car will be bumped in qualifying. It’s not clear if Abel Motorsports will be prepared to participate in next week’s two-day open test at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.
Abel currently runs two cars in Indy NXT and the attempt to qualify for the Indy 500 could be a sign that the team is starting the process of moving up to the top open-wheel racing series in the United States.
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