LONG BEACH, Calif. (AP) — Kyle Kirkwood won the first race of his IndyCar career Sunday by holding off Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean on the downtown streets of Long Beach.
Kirkwood a day earlier won the pole for the Grand Prix of Long Beach and the Jupiter, Florida, native then closed out the win at the most prestigious street course race in the United States.
“I am over the moon,” said Kirkwood, who blinked back tears.
He was challenged mid-race by defending Long Beach winner Josef Newgarden, but reclaimed the lead when the Team Penske driver pitted for new tires. Kirkwood stayed out for a handful more laps and was able to make his stop for tires and get back on track before Newgarden could reclaim the lead.
Newgarden, the winner two weeks ago at Texas Motor Speedway, dropped to sixth and Kirkwood’s primary challengers over the closing laps were Grosjean and Indianapolis 500 winner Marcus Ericsson of Chip Ganassi Racing.
But neither got close enough to make an attempt at the pass for the win, and Kirkwood celebrated his first win with Andretti.
He was part of Andretti’s development system but the team didn’t have an open IndyCar seat for him when it came time to promote him last season. Kirkwood instead spent the year driving for A.J. Foyt Racing and returned to Andretti this season as the replacement for Alexander Rossi.
Team owner Michael Andretti has so much faith in the 24-year-old that he made a personnel change two weeks ago to move Bryan Herta to Kirkwood’s timing stand as strategist. Herta had spent the last two seasons as the strategist for his son, Colton.
“It’s great for a young driver,” Andretti said. “He helped Colton I think a lot when he started out. I think we just felt like it was better for the team.”
Grosjean finished second and was followed by Ericsson, Colton Herta, and Alex Palou of Ganassi as Honda drivers swept the top-five.
Will Power of Team Penske was the highest-finishing Chevrolet at sixth. Newgarden faded to ninth.
ILOTT’S LONG WEEKEND
Callum Ilott arrived in Long Beach ranked seventh in the IndyCar standings and one of only six drivers to notch top-10 finishes in the first two races.
His success ended early.
Ilott crashed ahead of Saturday qualifying when he drove over curbing that had not been on the track during Friday’s practice. IndyCar did not inform teams that the curbing had been installed overnight and Ilott felt the series should pay Juncos Hollinger Racing for the crash damage.
Come Sunday, Ilott had to pit with a blown tire early in the race and dropped a lap off the pace. He finished 19th.
Agustin Canapino, meanwhile, led the first lap of his IndyCar career but the rookie from Argentina was later knocked out of the race for his first DNF of the season in a disappointing day for JHR.
Four-time Indianapolis 500 winner Helio Castroneves crashed on the opening lap and was barely able to pull away in time to remain on the lead lap. The Brazilian drove his wounded car back to the pits without its front wing and Meyer Shank Racing worked furiously to get Castroneves back on track.
It was the second time through three races this season that Castroneves crashed on the opening lap. He and teammate Simon Pagenaud were both knocked out of the season-opener in a multi-car crash in the third turn.
Castroneves finished 21st.
IndyCar races April 30 at Barber Motorsports Park in Alabama. Pato O’Ward is the defending race winner. IndyCar also has two days of testing scheduled at Indianapolis Motor Speedway next week.
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Jenna Fryer, The Associated Press