Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood, who made his full-time IndyCar Series debut in 2018 with A.J. Foyt Racing, will return to the team for an additional season and complete a four-year deal that includes 2019 and 2020.
Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood has landed a seat with A.J. Foyt Racing, which will be his first full-time IndyCar ride.
Kyle Kirkwood, the most well-rounded driver of the next generation of young IndyCar entrants, has finally secured a vacant seat with A.J. Foyt Racing and will race for them next season.
Kirkwood will pilot Foyt’s No. 14 Chevrolet, the team said on Wednesday. Last season’s driver, Sebastien Bourdais, is going to full-time sports car racing. Kirkwood will bring $1.3 million in scholarship money to the squad as a result of winning the Indy Lights championship.
The 23-year-old from Florida is the first driver in the Road to Indy ladder system to win championships in all three classes. In 2018, he won the USF2000 championship, followed by the Indy Pro 2000 championship in 2019 and the Indy Lights championship this year. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, the 2020 Indy Lights season has been canceled.
Kirkwood equaled Greg Moore’s 1995 record of ten Lights wins this year, but despite winning half of his races and earning IndyCar scholarship money, he wasn’t promoted automatically. Andretti Autosport kept Kirkwood’s contract, but when Michael Andretti’s option was not picked up, Kirkwood was free to hunt for employment elsewhere starting Nov. 1.
Andretti has acquired veteran Formula One driver Romain Grosjean from Dale Coyne Racing for next season, while Andretti elevated 21-year-old Devlin DeFrancesco to IndyCar last week following a winless season in Lights.
Andretti supported DeFrancesco’s promotion, claiming it was part of a long-term strategy. He did admit, though, that if Andretti had purchased an F1 team, he would have pulled Colton Herta from IndyCar and given Kirkwood the Herta seat.
“Unfortunately, the way things finished, there wasn’t place for him,” Andretti said of Kirkwood last week. “But I can guarantee you that he’s a future star, and we’re certainly going to be monitoring him.”
Kirkwood was also passed over by Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which announced Christian Lundgaard, a 20-year-old Formula 2 racer, as its new third driver last month. Meanwhile, David Malukas of Indy Lights tested with Dale Coyne Racing, and the championship runner-up to Kirkwood might finish up in IndyCar with two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.
IndyCar has four race winners aged 24 or younger last season, including Alex Palou of Spain, who began his championship-winning season 17 days after turning 24.
Kirkwood is a highly regarded endurance driver for the Vasser-Sullivan Racing sports car team, but he lacked the sponsorship cash that many teams need drivers to bring in order to be considered for a spot. Kirkwood only had his scholarship money, which would cover two races and the Indianapolis 500.
“This contract came together fast, but I’m immediately pleased with Kyle’s racing mindset and the maturity he seems to have for such a young driver,” said team president Larry Foyt. “As we take on those challenges and try to develop as a team, we believe Kyle will be a terrific contributor.”
While they met in 2018 at Road America when Kirkwood was racing in USF2000, Kirkwood stated Larry Foyt was one of the first persons in the IndyCar paddock to take the time to tour him around the major leagues.
“I felt extremely comfortable with the environment of the team from that point on,” Kirkwood said. “Now it has come to reality that I will be driving the No. 14.”
The four-time Indianapolis 500 champion and one of the greatest racers of all time, A.J. Foyt, owns A.J. Foyt Racing.
“It’s difficult to put into words how excited I am to be driving for such a seasoned and iconic squad,” Kirkwood remarked. “Seeing the entirely unexpected road I followed in past years develop into something I’d always aspired for as a youngster in karting is fantastic.”
- tony kanaan