Kyle Kirkwood is a perfect 3-for-3 in the Road to Indy. The Andretti Autosport driver won the Indy Lights championship this weekend in Mid-Ohio to give himself another trophy for his mantle. The Indy Lights trophy will slide in between the 2018 USF2000 championship as well as the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 hardware.
Kirkwood, won literally half the races. He celebrated victory a record tying 10 times in 20 tries in 2021 including Saturday’s race which set up an easier Sunday. He led by 22 points heading into the season finale after storming to a hot start to the weekend with earning a pole and leading all 30 laps around the 2.258-mile Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The win tied Greg Moore (1995) for most wins in a single season. It was also his 8th in 8 tries on the Ohio road course with. He’s 3-for-3 in USF2000 (2018), 2-for-2 in Indy Pro 2000 (2019) and was then 3-for-3 in Indy Lights.
David Malukas finished runner-up on Saturday but 6.4367-seconds back. It was their 7th 1-2 result of 2021 including six of the seven coming in and the last eight races at that.
They’ve also combined to win 14 of the last 15 races run on the season including 17 of the 20.
That’s because Kirkwood did what he had to do in playing conservative on Sunday and Malukas coming home runner up which was enough to lane Kirkwood the crown.
Kirkwood had nine top twos over the last 10 races to wrap up the season and now with $1.3-million in his hand to bring to an NTT IndyCar Series team for three races in 2022, where does he land?
The long rumor was always to go to the No. 18 Honda with Vasser-Sullivan/Dale Coyne Racing. See, Kirkwood runs for VSR in IMSA and it made the most sense if Andretti let him go. While some may be wonder, why on earth would Andretti let a driver of Kirkwood’s caliber go, well it’s because he has Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi returning to their respective seats as well as Romain Grosjean replacing Ryan Hunter-Reay in the No. 28 Honda. The fourth seat is going to go to Devlin DeFrancesco who will replace the departing James Hinchcliffe in the No. 29 Honda.
DeFrancesco brings more than the $1.3-million budget that Kirkwood brings which is why he gets the nod for the 29. But, Andretti now is signaling that Kirkwood may not get away that easy. There’s a path that they could bring the No. 98 Honda out for three races outside of the Indy 500 with Kirkwood in it. But, with Marco Andretti likely going into the 98 again for a Indy, they may be left finding places within the Andretti organization in other forms of motorsports for the year for Kirkwood.
See, Rossi is a free agent at the end of 2022 and if Andretti can’t retain him, enter Kirkwood for the 27. Plus, Jimmy Vasser and James Sullivan are eventually wanting to branch out on their own for 2023, so a potential swap to teaming up with Andretti and having Kirkwood in that car is being talked about in the paddock.
That would then leave the 18 fully open at DCR which in turn I’ve been hearing now that David Malukas and HMD Motorsports could team with. That would put this year’s second place finisher in points, Malukas, in an INDYCAR seat full time for 2022.
Malukas, had seven wins, five runner-ups including four in the last five races and 16 podiums in 20 starts. Kirkwood by comparison had 10 wins, four runner-ups and 14 podiums in the same 20 races.
For their second car, the one in conjunction with Rick Ware Racing, I’m hearing Takuma Sato’s name as being the top candidate for that seat.
That’s three Indy Lights drivers currently moving up to INDYCAR next season with Linus Lundqvist who finished third in points getting tabbed for a test too.
Lundqvist, had three wins, including one in the season opener at Barber and one in the season finale to go along with 11 podiums and 17 top five finishes in 20 starts. If he’s back in Indy Lights for 2022, that’s your championship favorite.
As far as what else is open. There’s only 10 rides but most of them are already tabbed with drivers.
Current Open Rides (10)
AJ Foyt Racing (2) – No. 4, No. 14
Rahal/Letterman/Lanigan Racing (2) – No. 30, No. 45
Dale Coyne Racing (2) – No. 18, No. 51
Andretti Autosport (1) – No. 29
Chip Ganassi Racing (1) – No. 8 Honda
Ed Carpenter Racing (1) – No. 20 (part time ride)
Carlin (1) – No. 59
Devlin De Franceso (linked to Andretti)
Kyle Kirkwood (linked to DCR/Vasser Sullivan and Andretti)
Marcus Ericsson (linked to Ganassi)
Jack Harvey (linked to RLL)
Takuma Sato (lined to staying at RLL or moving to DCR)
David Malukas (linked to DCR and ECR)
Santino Ferrucci (RLL possibility)
Oliver Askew (RLL possibility)
Christian Lundgaard (RLL possibility)
DeFrancesco will get the 29. Marcus Ericsson will stay in the 8. Jack Harvey is in one of the 2 RLL seats. If Sato is gone, the third is down to Ferrucci, Askew or Lundgaard with the favorite now being Ferrucci. The 51 would be to Sato if he leaves RLL which then only has open both rides at Foyt, the part time ride at ECR and the one at Carlin who likely remains to Max Chilton.
Foyt is likely going to bring back Dalton Kellett in the No. 4, so that then leaves the 14.
Sebastien Bourdais will shift to sports cars with Ganassi and eye and part time role with Foyt. If he doesn’t come back, Hunter-Reay would make sense, but is that where he wants to end his career?
The seat in the No. 20 Chevrolet on a part-time basis could be in play if Conor Daly leaves but that’s all dependent on Air Force. Honestly, it would make sense for Carpenter to bring out a third car for himself and get two full time drivers. Far worst case, split time with Daly and Hunter-Reay in the second car and Carpenter in a third.
Past that, most everything else is done minus the added entries that are possible for expansion.
DCR/Rick Ware has the No. 52 Honda they plan on bringing out some next season. Arrow McLaren SP will bring out a third car part time and then run it full time in 2023. Can Carlin get that second car off the ground again? What about Paretta Autosport who with Penske likely scaling back and Paretta losing their car which went back to Juncos, does the No. 22 Chevrolet end up being the No. 16 Chevrolet for races in 2022? Top Gun says that their No. 75 Chevrolet will be in use some. Foyt is eyeing a third and Tatiana Calderon if so.
All this adds up to a higher car count. We saw 24 full time cars this past season with that trajectory looking like we’ll have at least 26 on the grid for every race in 2022.
There’s a realistic chance that we’re going to see upwards of some races of 29-32 cars at them. I mean think about it. Chevrolet would have 3 cars at Penske, 2-3 at Foyt, two at AMSP, two at ECR, one at Carlin and Juncos/Hollinger. That’s 11-12 full time. They’d also have a third at AMSP, maybe a second at Carlin, maybe Paretta and Top Gun too. That’s some races with 15-16 cars.
Honda has four with Ganassi, four with Andretti, three at RLL, two at DCR and MSR. That’s 15 cars there. Does Ganassi land a fifth car is Jimmie Johnson goes full time? Tony Kanaan and Sebastien Bourdais would be great partners to share a fifth car. Does DCR/RWR add that third car in some races still? That could be 17 cars for Honda which is why I say there’s a very real possibility we can have 32 cars away from the Indy 500.
The only problem with this and the only reason we may fall short of this would be that there’s not enough people to go around for these teams. This is a people business and you can’t just hire anyone off the street. You need good, quality people around you and at this moment, there’s not a lot available.
Without a third OEM and most of the talented and veteran crewmembers already accounted for, we may soon hit our ceiling. I don’t see how Honda and Chevy could supply much more engines than they already do.