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IndyCar Long Beach

Michael Andretti on Kyle Kirkwood: He’s the real deal

Team owner Michael Andretti has declared it a pleasure to have Kyle Kirkwood onboard after the 24-year-old Floridian captured his first ever IndyCar pole today at Long Beach.

Kyle Kirkwood, Andretti Autosport Honda, paddock

In an interrupted Q2 segment of qualifying for the 48th Grand Prix of Long Beach, Kirkwood didn’t take fresh tires for the final run, having been securely in the top six when the red flag fell with a minute to go. That left him with a fresh set of Firestones for the Fast Six showdown, and he delivered a lap 0.04sec faster than closest challenger Marcus Ericsson’s Chip Ganassi Racing entry.

Afterward, Andretti declared: “He's the real deal. Happy for him. He's been a pleasure on the team. We're really excited, really happy for the results.

“Romain [Grosjean, who will roll off third tomorrow] did a great job. Obviously he was on used tires, Kyle was on new tires. He put in a really good lap. Really, really happy.”

Colton Herta, who had looked super-fast all weekend, did not make it into the Fast Six, having stuck with used tires like Kirkwood in the dregs of Q2, but then got bumped out by those on fresh rubber.

“So disappointed for Colton. He took a gamble and unfortunately it didn't pay off. I think their time was a little more vulnerable than Kyle's. They definitely made the wrong decision not going out on new tires there.”

Kirkwood, who was sensational on the former Road to Indy – Lights, Indy Pro and USF2000 – scoring 31 wins and 18 poles, explained that he needed two flyers in the Fast Six to get his tires up to temperature.

“One thing about our car is we needed that second lap,” he said. “If we didn't have that second lap, it would have been more of a struggle. I feel like there were a lot of other cars that were able to do it on the first lap. Us not so much. Our car was extremely fast.

“I'm ecstatic, right? Starting in the front of a field in a street course is always super beneficial. That first pole is extremely meaningful to someone. To have it here at Long Beach with such a big crowd is such a cool thing.”

Kirkwood was asked whether he expected his first pole so soon after switching from AJ Foyt Racing in his rookie season to Andretti, with whom he won the Indy Lights title in 2021.

“I was hopeful it would happen this quickly,” he said. “I was hopeful it would happen at St. Pete. We were extremely fast there.

“Ultimately it's a testament to the team. Andretti Autosport does a phenomenal job…we're in a really good direction. I feel like the car is in a really good spot. For instance, in that entire qualifying session, I didn't touch a thing – brakes, bars. This is good enough, we can go for the pole like this. That was the case.

“I mean, it just shows how good the team is flowing. It's important weekends like this when you roll out of the trailer well, and I feel like we did… It creates a calmness throughout the team. To have that calmness is super beneficial.”

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