Race Weekend Central

Kyle Kirkwood Earns 1st Career Pole at Long Beach

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.

See also
2023 IndyCar Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach Preview

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.

Round 2

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:

7. Herta

8. Newgarden

9. Mclaughlin

10. Felix Rosenqvist

11. Alexander Rossi

12. Armstrong

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

16. Helio Castroneves

18. Santinon Ferrucci

20. Devlin DeFrancesco

22. Ilott

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

13. Power

15. Jack Harvey

17. Christian Lundgaard

19. Rinus Veekay

21. Sting Ray Robb

23. Benjamin Pedersen

25. Malukas

Acura Grand Prix Starting Lineup

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 Blackburn

Tom is an IndyCar writer at Frontstretch, joining in March 2023. Besides writing the IndyCar Previews and the occasional Inside Indycar, he will hop on as a fill-in guest on the Open Wheel podcast The Pit Straight. His full-time job is with the Department of Veterans Affairs History Office and is a lieutenant colonel in the Army National Guard. After graduating from Purdue University with a Creative Writing degree, he was commissioned in the Army and served a 15-month deployment as a tank platoon leader with the 3d ACR in Mosul, Iraq. A native Hoosier, he calls Fort Wayne home. Follow Tom on Twitter @TomBlackburn42.

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