Kyle Kirkwood’s going home at the end of the season. Although he’s known about the move from A.J. Foyt Racing to Andretti Autosport for a good while, it doesn’t make awkward role of being a rookie whose clock is winding down with his first IndyCar team any easier to process.
Signed to replace the Arrow McLaren SP-bound Alexander Rossi, expectations are high for Andretti’s 2021 Indy Lights champion. He’s meant to form a powerful unit with Colton Herta and Romain Grosjean and fellow rookie Devlin DeFrancesco as the team pivots towards a lineup that’s mostly driven by youth, and while the future is filled with great promise, the Floridian says he can’t lose focus on immediate priorities.
“Even though those announcements came out so soon, I’m really not even focused on any of that yet,” Kirkwood told RACER. “I mean, we’re only six races into the season and I feel like I still have something to prove. Even though I’m solidified, at least for the ‘23 season, I still need to prove myself in this championship. So what’s coming next is not really a focal point at the moment.”
From his familiarity with its owner and namesake, to president J-F Thormann who looks after its Road To Indy program, to most of the pit crew members, returning to Andretti Autosport should be a smooth transition for the 23-year-old.
“I’m excited to be back with Andretti no doubt, and there’s a lot of faces I know,” Kirkwood said. “What got me to this point now is Andretti Autosport with the Indy Lights team and the [Colton Herta’s] 26 car was the first IndyCar I ever drove; I did straight-line tests and then did multiple tests with them for three days, actually. And there’s obviously loyalty there and they’ve helped me out a lot throughout my career. Some people don’t know that when I was in karting, I actually met J-F and he gave me some really important advice. Way back when I was in Indy Pro 2000, we had some information help from Andretti and they’ve become a family for me.”
Among IndyCar’s next-generation talent, the pairing of Kirkwood with Colton Herta has tantalizing potential, and if everything goes according to plan, these two could terrorize IndyCar for the next decade or more. Herta, already a seven-time race winner by the age of 22, asserted himself as Andretti’s strongest contender since his arrival in 2020, and in time, there’s every belief that Kirkwood will join him in the win column with the No. 27 Honda. At some teams, having two young lions under the same tent could be problematic, but Kirkwood says he and Herta already have a strong bond to build from once they join forces.
“I’ve known Colton for quite a long time,” Kirkwood said. “We’ve raced against each other for a long time. I think the first time probably would have been 2012 at the Supernats SKUSA karting event where were neck and neck all weekend long. I think George Russell ended up winning the race that we competed at, and we competed in various other races. But we’ve known each other for some time now, we hang out quite a bit, and I’d say he’s one of the drivers that I’m closer to on in the series, even before joining into IndyCar. So I think our chemistry will be great.”
Kirkwood’s brief time with the Foyt team can be used as an example of how quickly the triple Road To Indy champion can build a strong and dedicated team around him. And while his No. 14 Chevy crew don’t want to lose him, Kirkwood also wants it to be understood that he’s on a mission to reward their faith with results before the checkered flag waves over the 2022 season.
“I’m going to be pushing as hard as I can because we still have 11 races to go, and I am in a position right now where nothing changes, as if I am not signed for next year,” he said. “I want I want to do the best I can for A.J. Foyt Racing because the best way I can thank the team and everyone around me that has worked really hard is to go and get the results they deserve with the 14 car. They want to get wins as much as I do, and there’s a there’s a mutual respect and happiness from them for where I’ll be going next year. This is the team that’s getting me ready for the next step in my career, and I’m grateful to them.
“And they want nothing more than to cherish the time that we have right now and try and go for some wins. And with the races that we have left, I’m going to work hard to be the best I can every single day to make sure that that we’re doing the best we possibly can.”
Outside of winning for Foyt, there’s one other thing Kirkwood hopes to accomplish in the near future, and it might need to wait until he joins a higher profile team like Andretti: Being verified by Twitter. In one of the funnier ongoing sagas, Kirkwood’s efforts to have the social media platform add a checkmark next to his name has been met with multiple denials from Twitter that he’s shared with his followers.
Despite having one of the most prized rides in IndyCar waiting for him in a few months’ time, getting that check mark is the real status symbol Kirkwood’s going after.
“I’ve tried but it keeps not happening, and I think you need to know someone there to make it happen,” he said. “So far, no luck, but maybe I’ll get lucky when I don’t expect it.”