Kyle Kirkwood must have impressed Andretti Autosport’s NTT INDYCAR SERIES team during Wednesday’s driver evaluation test at Sebring International Raceway because his end-of-day debrief with the crew was surprisingly brief.
“They didn’t say much (other than), ‘Yeah, it was a good day,’” the amused Kirkwood said. “So, that to me was positive. Sometimes no news is good news.”
Kirkwood attributed the first-day smoothness to his familiarity with Michael Andretti’s Indianapolis-based organization. Together, they won this year’s Indy Lights championship with a series record-tying 10 race wins (in 20 starts) and seven poles.
“I went into a comfortable atmosphere (at this test) with a similar group of guys to what I’ve already worked with, understanding how they work, what their tendencies are, what they expect from the driver, what kind of feedback they like,” said Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Florida. “All I had to do was get in the car and get acclimated to it. It wasn’t that big of a deal.”
Toronto native Devlin DeFrancesco (pictured above) had a similar familiarity in the test on Sebring’s 1.7-mile short course. Having driven two seasons in an Andretti Steinbrenner Autosport car – he finished second in Indy Pro 2000 last year and sixth in Indy Lights this year – he was comfortable with his surroundings in the team’s No. 29 Honda-powered car.
DeFrancesco worked with Ray Gosselin, the veteran engineer best known for his success with Ryan Hunter-Reay, the 2012 NTT INDYCAR SERIES champion and 2014 Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge winner.
“Ray Gosselin is unbelievable in his approach to doing things – very calm, cool and collected, and very methodical,” DeFrancesco said. “Even though the rain came (midday), we were able to practice several things that we would do in a race weekend scenario: pit stops, fuel saving, all that sort of stuff and new tires at the end.
“It’s just another step up. The car is bigger, much more sophisticated, many more people, but you could see why Andretti is such a successful team.”
DeFrancesco, who turns 22 in January, said a second test is planned for later this month at Barber Motorsports Park.
“If anything surprised me it was the carbon brakes,” he said. “You can really hammer them, be really aggressive with them … and you can brake with a lot of lateral Gs in the car. But by the end of the day, I was starting to get really comfortable with them.”
Kirkwood drove the team’s No. 26 car that Colton Herta piloted through much of the recently completed season, winning three races. He had Herta’s father and race strategist, Bryan, on the timing stand and Herta’s engineer, Nathan O’Rourke, making chassis modifications.
“It was cool they brought pretty much the entire crew over there,” Kirkwood said. “Great group of guys that seem to work really well together. I couldn’t have asked for a better atmosphere to do my first test.”
Kirkwood felt comfortable in the car, too.
“First time in an Indy car was not as big of a deal as I thought it would be, and it definitely wasn’t overwhelming,” he said. “I think the Indy Lights car is a really good tool for building (up) to it because it wasn’t a massive difference. Similar tendencies, just a bit more of everything. A little bit more power, much better tires, better brakes, more downforce. Systematically it was pretty much the same.”
Kirkwood, who turns 23 on Tuesday, said he does not yet know how he fits in the team’s plans for 2022 and beyond, but he is confident something will work out.
“It’s just one step at a time at the moment,” he said. “Yeah, I did my first INDYCAR test, but nothing is set in stone by any means.
“I’m sure everything will come together in one way or another, but it’s just nice to get in the car, get acclimated to it. I was quick pretty much right out of the gate. On my first run I was nine-tenths off what I did the entire day and the track wasn’t in very good condition, so I thought that was a positive.
“So, yeah, just one step at a time and getting started and getting comfortable was a really important step.”