HOMESTEAD, Fla. – The final test session prior to the start of a new Road to Indy presented by Cooper Tires season concluded Monday afternoon at a blustery Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Kyle Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., posted the fastest time among the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires field for Andretti Autosport, which will be aiming to claim a third successive championship.
A total of 746 laps around the 2.21-mile road course were turned Monday during the four-and-a-half hour Spring Training test.
After the first 90 minutes of running Monday morning, Toby Sowery emerged narrowly fastest for Belardi Auto Racing with a best lap of 1:14.9445.
But rookie teammate Rasmus Lindh, from Gothenburg, Sweden, and Kirkwood were both within just .0358 of a second of the Englishman.
Lap times continued to come down after the lunch break, with Kirkwood’s 11th lap remaining as the fastest of the day at 1:14.3331, an average speed of 107.032 mph.
“It reconfirms that we have a good setup and that we’re strong,” said Kirkwood. “Everyone is close but it’s nice to go into St. Pete with some confidence. This year is so different from last year – I’ve had more testing this year than I’ve ever had, considering my deals the past two years came together at the last minute. I’ve had time to get to know the team and my engineer, Doug Zister, so everything feels good.
“I consider St. Pete my home race, but I’m not sure if it creates pressure to have so many of my friends and family there. It’s the best street course we go to and to race right downtown is very cool.”
One year ago, both Kirkwood and Sowery arrived for the corresponding final pre-season Spring Training test with deals that were concluded virtually at the last minute. It certainly didn’t seem to adversely affect their results.
While Kirkwood’s race season included a few hiccups in the early rounds, he ended the year as a convincing Indy Pro 2000 champion, while Sowery impressed by finishing on the podium at St. Petersburg in each of his first two Indy Lights races.
“This year is so much better than last year,” said Sowery, who was one of only two drivers to improve at the end of the day, turning a best lap of 1:14.4428. “Last year the deal came together so late, and after the first session we were a second off the pace. This year we led the first session without really going for it and when everyone went to the new tire, we were right there. So I’m feeling quite confident going into St. Pete.
“There were some nerves going into St. Pete last year, as I had never driven a street course, but I came back to take two podiums – but it was Belardi who beat us, so this year should be even better.”
Lindh, 18, has finished second to Kirkwood in each of the past two years, firstly in USF2000 and then again last year in Indy Pro 2000. He continued his strong form by ending the day third with a time of 1:14.5290, less than a tenth behind his more experienced teammate.
“I’m quite happy,” said Lindh. “I feel as though I’ve adjusted to the car after the Indy Pro 2000 car. Everything feels more proper: the brakes are better, there’s more downforce, so I thought the jump was fairly easy. Belardi always has a good car at St. Pete; they’ve won races there the past few years. It’s a good track to drive. You have to be very precise and that’s fun.”
Another teenager, David Malukas, was fourth fastest for HMD Motorsports, just over a tenth and a half faster than teammate and Indy Lights veteran Santi Urrutia, who is returning to Indy Lights after a one-year hiatus.
Robert Megennis, a race winner last year for Andretti Autosport, was sandwiched between the two HMD Dallaras, fifth fastest, as the top six cars were blanketed by less than a half-second.
Frenchman Tristan Charpentier and Singapore’s Danial Frost, also driving for the Andretti Autosport juggernaut, were seventh and eighth ahead of Canadian Antonio Serravalle for HMD Motorsports and Los Angeles-based Russian Nikita Lastochkin, who has stepped up to Indy Lights this year along with the Canadian-based Exclusive Autosport team.
The Indy Lights teams and drivers will join those from the two junior rungs on the ladder, the Indy Pro 2000 Championship presented by Cooper Tires and the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship, whose Spring Training test wrapped up Sunday, in heading north to St. Petersburg, Fla., for the opening two races of the season.
Kirkwood, 21, has taken the Road to Indy by storm over the past two years. He won 12 of 14 races in 2018 during a dominant campaign in USF2000, then added another nine race wins last year on his way to securing the Indy Pro 2000 crown.
In 2020, he will attempt to become the first driver to win championships on all three levels of the Road to Indy – and, even more impressively, in consecutive years.
If so, he will also claim another Road to Indy scholarship, valued at $1 million, ensuring entry into at least three 2021 IndyCar Series races, including the 105th Indianapolis 500.