MONTEREY, Calif. – Kyle Kirkwood gave the appearance of being in a class by himself in Saturday’s Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires.
The 22-year-old from Jupiter, Fla., led from green flag to checkered flag for a dominating eighth victory of the season for Andretti Autosport. It was enough to move him back into the championship points lead after his closest rival, David Malukas, finished a disappointing fourth for HMD Motorsports.
Global Racing Group with HMD Motorsports teammates Linus Lundqvist, from Stockholm, Sweden, and Seattle, Wash.-based Benjamin Pedersen, originally from Copenhagen, Denmark, finished second and third, albeit well in arrears of the flying Kirkwood.
Kirkwood began his weekend by posting the second fastest time in the opening practice session yesterday morning, less than a hundredth of a second behind Andretti Steinbrenner Racing teammate Devlin DeFrancesco. In qualifying later in the afternoon he secured the fifth Cooper Tires Pole Award of his phenomenal rookie campaign.
Kirkwood made an exemplary start from pole position under a sunny sky this afternoon and was never seriously challenged during the 30-lap race at the undulating WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. He completed the first lap almost a second clear of outside front row starter and fellow rookie Lundqvist. and extended his lead to more than 7.6 seconds by the time the caution flags waved following 17 laps when Christian Bogle ended his day in the gravel trap at the Mario Andretti Hairpin, turn two, following an apparent mechanical problem.
Unable to match Kirkwood’s pace, Lundqvist had remained under pressure from Malukas until the points leader’s car suddenly snapped sideways at Turn Four on his ninth lap. Malukas did well to regain control but not before losing a place to Pedersen.
Kirkwood lost no time in reasserting his authority when the race was restarted with nine laps remaining. Kirkwood stretched his lead to over 1.8 seconds on the first lap and continued to build the margin before easing off on the final lap around the 2.238-mile road course and taking the checkered flag a comfortable 6.6515 seconds clear of Lundqvist.
Pedersen maintained his strong run of form by notching his fifth top-four finish in a row, with Malukas chasing him home in fourth. Rasmus Lindh finished fifth for Juncos Hollinger Racing.
Italian-Canadian DeFrancesco crossed the line in sixth before the addition of a five-second penalty for jumping the restart dropped him to ninth behind Sting Ray Robb, Manuel Sulaiman and Danial Frost.