Second-year driver Kyle Kirkwood used a fresh set of alternate Firestone tires to take his first career NTT IndyCar Series pole and lead the field for Sunday’s (April 16) historic Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“I’m just ecstatic at the moment,” Kirkwood told NBC. “Right there in the fast 12 where we transferred we did our lap on the first set on the used tires, and the car feels real good on lap 2 but feels hard to get it done on lap 1 which you saw in the fast 6. Our car is on fire this weekend.”
Kirkwood’s team, led by new race strategist Bryan Herta, made a critical decision to hold a set of fresh alternate tires for the Firestone Fast 6, hoping the speed was there on used ones in the Fast 12 to advance. The decision paid off as the new Andretti Autosport driver got his No. 27 AutoNation Honda on the pole in his 20th start.
Firestone Fast Six
The run for the pole came down to used vs. fresh alternate Firestone tires. Kirkwood waited until the last minute to make his qualifying run and on his second lap took the fastest time. Romain Grosjean and Pato O’Ward, who was fastest in the two practice sessions, were unable to match the time while trying to get more out of their used tires in the final round.
Colton Herta was penalized early in the session when he caused a local yellow, requiring a drive-through since he did not have a timed lap yet. At the one-minute mark, rookie Marcus Armstrong ran into the barriers after locking up his tires entering turn 9, causing a red flag while others were on flying laps. This led to debate within the pits among teams on whether drivers would return on sticker or used alternates for the last minute, with IndyCar guaranteeing each team one timed lap.
When the green came back, strategy varied by teams and Grosjean leapfrogged O’Ward to lead the session. Herta was unable to defend his qualifying record run from the previous year and neither Scott Mclaughlin nor Josef Newgarden were able to get their Team Penske cars into the Fast Six.
Eliminated from Round 2:
10. Felix Rosenqvist
11. Alexander Rossi
Round 1 Group 2
Several drivers started Group 2 on the Firestone alternate tires, in a twist on the usual strategy of rolling out first on the primary tire. Armstrong used two sets of fresh alternates to move to Round 2. Juncos Hollinger Racing’s Callum Illot had a frustrating morning, crashing in turn 5 during practice. His team repaired the car in time for qualifying but he was unable to advance out of his group.
14. Simon Pagenaud
24. Graham Rahal
26. Agustin Canapino
27. Conor Daly
Round 1 Group 1
Thirteen cars rolled off for the first group. With a little under seven minutes left in the session, David Malukas backed his HMD Dale Coyne No. 18 Honda into turn 4, bringing out the red and stopping the clock. He had touched the wall a lap earlier in turn 9.
The rest of the session went smoothly, with Kirkwood leading the group of those advancing to the next round. Qualifying ace Will Power couldn’t coax enough speed out of his Team Penske Verizon no. 12 Chevrolet to get out of the opening group.
Eliminated from Round 1 Group 1
15. Jack Harvey
19. Rinus Veekay
21. Sting Ray Robb
The 48th Running of the Acura Grand Prix will take place on Sunday, Apr. 16 at 3 p.m. ET with coverage on NBC.
About the author
Tom is an IndyCar contributor at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. He also works full-time for the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. A native Hoosier, he's followed IndyCar closely since 1991. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.
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