Kyle Kirkwood is that other Mazda Road to Indy driver from Jupiter, Florida.
For many, it’s easy to compare the 19-year-old to his friend and fellow Jupiter resident, Oliver Askew.
After all, both hail from the same town and both were 2016 Team USA Scholarship winners. Both have grown up competing at Palm Beach International Raceway. They even drive for the same team: Cape Motorsports.
Even team co-owner Nicholas Cape labeled them “two peas in a pod.”
In 2017, Askew captured the Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship powered by Mazda – the first rung of the three-tiered Mazda Road to Indy development ladder. Meanwhile, Kirkwood was busy claiming nine wins, 15 podiums and six poles en route to the F4 United States Championship powered by Honda.
Now, Kirkwood has moved into the seat formerly filled by Askew, who, with the Mazda scholarship earned by winning the USF2000 title, has progressed up to fight in the Pro Mazda Championship presented by Cooper Tires this season.
Kirkwood won his USF2000 debut last month on the streets of St. Petersburg and left the doubleheader race weekend as the championship leader by seven points over DEForce Racing rookie Jose Sierra.
It goes to show the poise of Kirkwood, who admitted before the season started that he isn’t feeling the pressure of keeping Cape Motorsports’ streak of seven consecutive USF2000 titles alive.
“Honestly, if anything, it gives me more confidence because I know I’m with a team that has a proven track record and they can go out there and win races,” said Kirkwood, driver of the No. 8 Mazda/Tatuus USF-17.
“They already have the setups for the car. They have everything, where it’s just all I have to do is go out there and drive, so it’s really good. I don't have anything on my back wondering if the car is going to be bad because I know it’s going to be the best car out there every single session.
“So for me, it honestly just gives me more confidence – especially since we’re only a one-car team. (Pabst Racing) is a four-car team, they obviously have a lot more data to compare off of from a lot more drivers, but I’m excited for the year.
“I think it’s going to be really good, especially with last year. Oliver obviously won the championship and we’ve talked about it. We’re very comparable drivers so I think I can go out there and do the same thing.”
Although Kirkwood is flying solo in USF2000, he still has the benefit of leaning on Askew whenever needed and has notes from last year’s championship campaign.
“We’re kind of on our two separate programs, but if I ever have any questions, if I’m struggling anywhere, I can always go to him (and) he’ll have the answer for me,” said Kirkwood, the 2016 national champion in the Florida Winter Tour Rotax Senior Max and RokCup USA Senior karting divisions.
“It’s great having him as a teammate. We’ve been teammates since we were really young. I think this is the seventh year that we’ve been teammates on a proper team, but there’s other times when we were 5 or 6 years old where we were running together in Comer 80 (karts) back in the early or mid-2000s.
“So it’s really cool being back together with him in the same program, same series (MRTI), same team. It’s pretty cool.”
Kirkwood did admit that his driving style varies some from that of Askew.
“If I had to guess, Oliver would be a bit more meticulous and I’m a little bit more aggressive, you could say, with my driving style,” said Kirkwood. “He’s very precise, always hits his marks, and I’m more always just digging. Not throwing it around, but I’m always digging at the car trying to get that extra little bit.”
Askew agreed with that assessment – mostly.
“Depends on the day,” said Askew, driver of the No. 3 Soul Red Mazda/Tatuus PM-18 in Pro Mazda. “If I need to turn it up, I can turn it up, but I think that’s fair to say that I’m kind of a perfectionist. Even off the track, too. I try not to make any mistakes. I think he’s that way, too.”
Kirkwood won’t race again until USF2000 contests Rounds 3 and 4 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course during the INDYCAR Grand Prix on May 10-12. Askew and Pro Mazda return to action April 20-22 for a doubleheader weekend at Barber Motorsports Park as part of the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.