Kirkwood tries to impress Foyt’s drive in 1st Indy 500

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INDIANAPOLIS — Kyle Kirkwood won on every level on his slow ascent through the ladder system to a seat in North America’s top open-wheel series.

Now, the Floridian will make his Indianapolis 500 debut driving none other than AJ Foyt, one of the greatest drivers in history. Foyt has won the Indy 500 four times and, along with Mario Andretti, is the only driver to win both the Indy and the Daytona 500.

Kirkwood, one of six rookies in the field, will ride Foyt’s famous No. 14 in “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

“Everyone tells you how legendary this place is, but you don’t understand until you see it,” Kirkwood said. “You come to Indianapolis Motor Speedway and see AJ and see him interact with the fans, and understand how far his legacy goes, and I realize now how special it is to drive that #14 car and represent him at this special place.”

The 23-year-old had a long climb to get into IndyCar, and now that he’s arrived his stock is skyrocketing. Although his best finish is 10th after five IndyCar races – Kirkwood crashed twice – he took mediocre cars from AJ Foyt Racing and made them competitive.

Kirkwood starts 28th on Sunday, next to teammate Foyt Dalton Kellett and in the same row as two-time Indy 500 winner Juan Pablo Montoya.

At the end of the race, Kirkwood will turn his attention to a big week in Detroit. Vasser Sullivan asked Kirkwood to compete in the IMSA Sports Car Sprint Race at Belle Isle, the first time Kirkwood will be used by the Lexus team in a role other than an endurance driver.

“It’s been a while since I’ve been in the car and I’m looking forward to my first sprint race,” he said. “I will do double duty in Detroit, racing both IndyCar and IMSA, and that means more track time for me.”

The double-serve weekend helped Kirkwood attract suitors into the industry. He was developed by Andretti Autosport, but the team didn’t have an IndyCar seat open for him this year. Kirkwood was also a key part of Vasser Sullivan and he is a favorite of Lexus parent Toyota.

Andretti is expected to have a vacant seat next year that could allow the team to bring Kirkwood back in-house, but Kirkwood doesn’t want to lose its sports car relationship with the Vasser Sullivan organization.

He has a big run on Sunday to set the tone for a frenetic free agency streak in which Foyt is unlikely to guard Kirkwood.

Could Vasser Sullivan be in the game? The team pulled out of IndyCar this year to focus on its Lexus sports car program, but team co-owner James Sullivan said they are working on a comeback.

“Vasser Sullivan will 100% return to IndyCar. We have a big responsibility in the move from LEXUS to GTD Pro, and frankly, it deserves and needs our full attention right now,” he said.

Callum Illot is a reserve driver for Formula 1 team Alfa Romeo and wore his uniform earlier this month at the inaugural Miami Grand Prix.

But the British driver then returned to Indianapolis for his full-time job as an IndyCar rookie for Juncos Hollinger Racing, a one-car team that qualified 19th for Illot’s debut at the Indianapolis 500 Miles.

Illot a installed in the IndyCar series and his friendly paddock and confirmed that he is not currently pursuing any F1 opportunities.

“I’m not actively looking for anything in F1. If something comes up, great, but it’s not something I’m looking for right now,” Illot said. with me and I think (IndyCar) has a big growing interest and people are definitely talking a little more and I’m a little more well known.”

The contract extension announced by Pato O’Ward on Friday with Arrow McLaren SP presents “potential opportunities” for the Mexican driver in Formula 1.

But what exactly this means is unclear.

It’s also unclear whether O’Ward will achieve his childhood dream.

His extension with McLaren’s IndyCar team is until 2025 and O’Ward, who turned 23 this month, had hoped to be in F1 for the next two seasons. Now he’s not so sure anymore.

“I think that delay is there just because of age,” O’Ward said. “I think once you’re 25 or 26, that window closes a bit. My dream of becoming a racing driver was born thanks to Formula 1, and it is something that will never go away.

“But right now I am fully focused on what we need to do. I’m having so much fun right now, so just drive the race car, win races. If I get the chance to drive these special cars (F1) that would be great. But I’m really grateful to be in the position I’m in now.

Marco Andretti has a familiar voice in his career leading the shots at the Indy 500. Team owner Michael Andretti returns as the strategist for his son’s 17th attempt to win the race.

“We’re both working a lot better these days than when I was a rookie and I didn’t think dad knew what he was talking about,” Andretti said. “Now he definitely doesn’t because I have more starts than him here.”

Certainly Marco’s 17th start will see him pass his father on the Indy 500 family starts list. Michael Andretti went 0 for 16. Mario Andretti won his only Indy 500 in 1969.

Marco Andretti won the Indy 500 pole in 2020 but faded to 13th. He quit racing full time but returned for the Indianapolis 500 last year. This year’s race is the only one on its IndyCar schedule.

“It’s my bread and butter in this place and it’s the one that pays,” he said.

Andretti, who has won twice in 249 career IndyCar starts, starts 23rd on Sunday.

“You could wake me up from my sleep and I’ll go drive down the freeway.” I love it here,” he said. “I think that’s the first year I’ve been cold for a year because we finished 2020 in 21, and that race was August 20. Yeah, that was as cold as me, and I don’t feel behind anyone or anything.

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