DETROIT, Mich. – Kyle Kirkwood, driving for Andretti Autosport, won the opening leg of the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Detroit Presented by Cooper Tires doubleheader at The Raceway at Belle Isle Park Saturday afternoon.
The native of Jupiter, Fla., led throughout the 25-lap race, albeit under pressure for the entire distance from Sweden’s Linus Lundqvist, who finished just over a half-second in arrears for the Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports team.
Englishman Toby Sowery finished third for Juncos Racing.
Kirkwood, who earned his opportunity to graduate into Indy Lights by winning the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires, started on the pole position after securing his second Cooper Tires Pole Award of the season during qualifying on Friday.
After the first attempt at a start was waved off due to the field not being in close enough formation, Kirkwood took full advantage of his inside front row starting position to lead into Turn One. The rest followed largely in grid order with Lundqvist in second ahead of Sowery, Australian Alex Peroni and David Malukas. The championship leader did well to qualify fifth after making a mistake only a few laps into the opening session on Friday morning, inflicting heavy damage to his HMD Motorsports Dallara-AER IL-15.
Kirkwood increased his advantage over Lundqvist to as much as 1.8 seconds inside the opening four laps as the leaders gradually increased their pace. Each of Kirkwood’s first 10 laps around the demanding 2.35-mile, 14-turn temporary circuit was quicker than the previous one, but still Lundqvist remained a factor in his mirrors.
All of the top four runners – plus Denmark’s Benjamin Pedersen, who was running eighth after losing a position at the start to Robert Megennis – took a turn at posting the fastest lap during the opening eight tours before Kirkwood and Lundqvist began to assert their authority.
Each time one would go faster, the other would respond. Kirkwood, though, remained in control at the front, and even though Lundqvist kept piling on the pressure – and was able to establish a new lap record at 1:22.4535, an average speed of 102.603 mph, Kirkwood kept his cool and his advantage. His eventual margin of victory was .5174 seconds.
“It’s crucial that we got the pole yesterday and this win today to get maximum points. It’s going to be close at the end of the season,” Kirkwood said. “We rolled off the truck quick, which is everything at a track like this. It gave us a nice edge and gave me plenty of confidence, and I learned the track quickly because the car was so good. The track changes so much so it’s hard to make a change to the car and predict what the car will do. This is the first time we’ve run on a track that had three different tire compounds (from the IndyCar and IMSA series). I spoke with James Hinchcliffe and Rinus VeeKay and they said that their cars are starting to gain front grip and we are too, so we might have to tune to that for tomorrow. It’s hard to pass here, but hopefully we can make something happen from third.”
Sowery couldn’t match their pace in third, but was nevertheless pleased to have earned his third successive podium finish, with Peroni hot on his tail.
Malukas maintained his championship lead with a steady drive to fifth after holding off a late challenge from Singapore’s Danial Frost.