Note: The editorial staff at INDYCAR.com is taking a look back at the 10 biggest moments of 2021 in INDYCAR in this year-end series, with one installment appearing on the site per day in countdown fashion from Dec. 22-31.
Kyle Kirkwood’s dominant ascent to the NTT INDYCAR SERIES suggests that opponents ought to finish ahead of him often in 2022 because that might not be possible once he gains experience.
Kirkwood arrives at AJ Foyt Racing as the most decorated driver in Road to Indy history, and he did so after limited success in early-season races.
As a newcomer to USF2000 in 2018, Kirkwood won only one of the season’s first three races. But after that? Eleven consecutive wins to secure his first Road to Indy championship.
Much of the same happened the next year in Indy Pro 2000 in 2019, when he and RP Motorsports didn’t start strong. They were 0-for-5 to begin the season but reeled off eight wins in the next nine races to clinch Kirkwood’s second title in succession.
Indy Lights didn’t race in 2020 due to the pandemic, and Kirkwood’s 2021 received an admirable challenge from David Malukas, who won seven of the 20 races. But Kirkwood answered with a series-record 10 race wins for Andretti Autosport, including four of the final five. Over the last 13 races, the Jupiter, Florida, driver finished first or second 11 times.
Add it up: Kirkwood won 31 of 50 races – a staggering 62 percent -- in three Road to Indy seasons, becoming the only triple champion in the program’s history.
The Road to Indy has produced so many drivers that have succeeded in the NTT INDYCAR SERIES in recent years – race winners Pato O’Ward, Colton Herta and Rinus VeeKay since 2019 -- which is a strong indication that Kirkwood is about to join the list.
“A lot of it is traffic experience,” Kirkwood said of the skills sharpened. “When I got out of the Indy Lights car (at season’s end) and got into the Indy car (during testing), I was like, ‘Man, this isn’t that big of a deal.’ Within the first three laps I was in the Indy car at Sebring I was within a second of what (Alexander) Rossi did there previously in the test back in June or July.
“I mean, it's not a massive jump (to INDYCAR), and I think I'll come up to pace pretty quickly. I've done that in multiple cars, so I think that's a strong suit of mine, which is nice because coming into INDYCAR against a lot of people that have tons of experience at the tracks, the car, racing it because now I'm actually going to have to do some fuel saving and some tire strategy or strategy in general.
“There's a lot of new things, but I think I'm ready for it.”