Learning the ropes and gaining the experience to climb the ladder to the Verizon IndyCar Series isn’t easy. It can be arduous and even impossible for some.
But for Kyle Kaiser – competing this year in the top rung of the Mazda Road to Indy development ladder, Indy Lights presented by Cooper Tires – having a friend and mentor to go through the process has been invaluable for his journey.
Kaiser, currently second in the Indy Lights standings driving for Juncos Racing, has the benefit the ultimate mentor in Alexander Rossi, the Verizon IndyCar Series rookie with Andretti Herta Autosport with Curb-Agajanian but a veteran of open-wheel racing ranks whose experience includes two seasons competing in Formula One.
“I first met Alexander through my dad because they were racing against each other in Skip Barber,” Kaiser said. “At the time I was very young and still in go-karts, so he would help me out with some tips and pointers.”
As the years progressed, Rossi found more success and moved from their native California to Europe to pursue a path to F1. But the miles apart didn’t affect the friendship the two shared.
“Even though we were racing in different parts of the world, he still came to watch my professional debut at Mazda Raceway (Laguna Seca in California) in 2012 and we still keep in contact today,” Kaiser said.
With Rossi now racing Indy cars and Kaiser just a step below in Indy Lights, the two will be living in the same city and racing at the same tracks week in and week out. Kaiser said seeing each other on a regular basis will improve the mentorship Rossi provides.
“It is extremely beneficial to have someone who has the experience of racing at the highest level and knowing I have someone to help me if I need it,” Kaiser said. “I think he’ll be a great resource throughout the season to chat with and ask questions.”
Rossi, who drives the No. 98 Castrol Edge/Curb Honda in the Verizon IndyCar Series, said it may not be long before the two are in direct competition.
“I have always paid close attention to his progress and am happy to see him in such a good place this year,” Rossi said of Kaiser. “He has a great future in the sport and I look forward to racing him in the near future.”
Kaiser had a solid rookie season for Juncos in Indy Lights last year, finishing sixth in the standings with seven top-five finishes but no wins. The 20-year-old started 2016 on a tear, finishing on the podium in both races of the St. Petersburg doubleheader to open the season before leading flag to flag on Phoenix International Raceway’s tough short oval to capture his first Indy Lights win on April 2.
He sits second in the standings heading into the May races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – a doubleheader this Friday and Saturday on the 2.439-mile road course, followed by the Freedom 100 on the 2.5-mile oval on May 27.
In addition to help from Rossi, Kaiser credits his success this year to his longevity with Juncos Racing. The 2016 season is Kaiser’s third consecutive year with the team, including the 2014 Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires campaign. It marks the longest consecutive run team owner Ricardo Juncos has worked with any driver.
“Ricardo and the race team has become like a family to me,” Kaiser said. “I think the biggest advantage of growing with the same team is our trust with each other. The worst enemy in racing is losing trust in your team and vice-versa. When it comes to hard situations, we know we can rely on each other to do our best and that is the perfect environment to be in for a race team.”
Rossi isn’t the only athlete Kaiser looks up to, either. Hailing from the San Francisco Bay Area, he has always had an admiration for NBA star Stephen Curry.
“What I respect most about Steph is that he has overcome the greatest odds to become the best player in the game today,” Kaiser said. “I try to model myself after Steph Curry’s demeanor of a champion. He is extremely humble, yet has immense confidence in his abilities. He puts in more work than anyone else off the court, which translates to his performance on the court.”
All three levels of the Mazda Road to Indy – Indy Lights, Pro Mazda and Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – are in action this week in conjunction with the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis on the IMS road circuit. Following two days of testing and practice Wednesday and Thursday, each development series will race once Friday and again Saturday.