Andretti hopes Kirkwood can return to “the family” one day

Michael Andretti says it was tough to let go of his 2021 Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood and expressed hope that he will race for him one day.

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Despite scoring 10 wins and the Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires championship with Andretti Autosport this year, Kirkwood is currently not yet signed for a team next season.

Andretti Autosport’s four full-time entries in 2022 will be driven by Colton Herta, Alexander Rossi, Romain Grosjean and, as confirmed today, Kirkwood’s former teammate Devlin DeFrancesco.

Kirkwood’s Road To Indy scholarship prize is worth $1.25m and guarantees him at least three entries next year – St. Petersburg, GP of Indianapolis and the Indianapolis 500 – but Andretti said “probably not” to the idea of running a fifth car for Kirkwood even on a part-time basis.

He said: “Definitely we're going to be watching him for the future. Unfortunately the way things ended, there wasn't room for him, but I can assure you that he's a star of the future, and we're definitely going to be watching him.

“Hopefully down the road there could be an opportunity to get him back in the family.”

Although it appears that DeFrancesco, who scored two podium finishes in Indy Lights after taking second in Indy Pro 2000 in 2020, had been chosen over someone who took titles at all three levels of the Road To Indy, Andretti explained that was not the case.

“The thing with Devlin is not something that just happened overnight,” he said. “This is something that we've been working on. It's been like a three-year program.

“Devlin getting the seat was always in the plan before Kyle was even around. It's not like we picked Devlin over Kyle; it was always going to be Devlin…

“Unfortunately at the moment we don't have a spot for Kyle, but that's not to say we won't in the future. We're definitely going to watch him, and I'm hoping he gets a full-time ride to get experience, and we'll see how that goes.

“The goal is to get him back in our family one day again.”

Had Andretti’s plans to buy into the Alfa Romeo/Sauber team gone ahead, and Colton Herta had switched to Formula 1, Kirkwood would have replaced Herta in the Gainbridge-backed #26 AA-Honda IndyCar.

“Obviously he was in our plans if the F1 thing came about, so unfortunately that fell through, and then that fell through for his opportunity.”

Kirkwood’s current most likely option for next season is at AJ Foyt Racing.

Another driver who Andretti appears interested in retaining for 2022 – albeit in a different role – is the driver that DeFrancesco is replacing in the Andretti Steinbrenner #29 entry, James Hinchcliffe.

“I'd definitely love to keep him in our family in some way,” said Andretti. “We love James. He's just such a great personality, and he's got great experience.

“We're hoping to somehow keep him within the team. We don't have that confirmed yet, though.”

Asked if he could imagine the Canadian race-winning veteran as a driver advisor, similar to Dario Franchitti’s current role at Chip Ganassi Racing, Andretti replied, “With his experience and personality, I think he'd be really good at that, yes.”

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