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The important thing learnings for Kirkwood in his breakthrough IndyCar marketing campaign

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There is no such thing as a doubt Kyle Kirkwood was one of many breakout stars in IndyCar in 2023.

In his second yr competing in North America’s premier open-wheel championship, first with Andretti, the 24-year-old Floridian visited Victory Lane for the primary time in his profession on the Streets of Lengthy Seaside, after which repeated the feat in at Nashville. What’s extra, he was the one driver to search out the highest step of the rostrum in a workforce that included Colton Herta, Romain Grosjean and Devlin DeFrancesco.

Nonetheless, the yr proved to be feast or famine as these wins have been the one instances Kirkwood positioned among the many high 5 within the 17 rounds en path to ending eleventh within the championship standings. The wins supplied some solace in a yr stricken by a mixture of errors or being concerned in random incidents.

Reflecting again on the yr, the 24-year-old doesn’t imagine there was a lot of an adjustment in shifting to Andretti from AJ Foyt Racing, the place he spent his rookie season in 2022, however fairly persevering with to get acclimated to the nuances of IndyCar.

“The place the training got here from is simply myself inside the collection, nonetheless understanding IndyCar,” Kirkwood advised Autosport. “You already know, it is bizarre since you come up via the ladder collection and also you get into IndyCar, and you’ve got the tempo. That is not a query. It wasn’t a query for me. I did not assume.

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“There’s nonetheless a lot to study inside the collection and the way issues function and understanding the tyres, situations, evolution, degradation, technique, stuff like that, and I am simply now beginning to perceive it. I am attending to the purpose the place I perceive the race that we’re racing, whereas at the start of the yr or final yr, I did not perceive it. I used to be identical to, ‘Okay, I am driving till they inform me to pit.’

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

Kirkwood conceded he started the season with out a full understanding of what is required to achieve success in IndyCar

“Now, I perceive what must be finished within the state of affairs that we’re in and that has helped me simply by understanding and understanding when to push, when to not push, when to avoid wasting, when to not save.

“Nashville was an ideal instance the place we simply sat in second place for some time as a result of I knew that we did not really want to get round Alex Palou as a result of he was going to need to pit sooner than us. I understood the technique variations from the start of the race when an early warning got here out. And that is all stuff that I did not have the data of final yr, which has helped me. That is what I’ve actually discovered all through the season. Probably not tempo. It is not likely something with my driving. It is simply understanding and what to do in what conditions.”

A part of Kirkwood’s progress has include a relentless self-discipline of learning. Each race weekend he arrived on the monitor concurrently his workforce, when the gates to the storage open up, and is among the many final to go away. As a substitute of going out, although, he might be discovered again on the lodge, often ordering dinner and being firmly planted in knowledge, onboard movies or watching {old} races. Whereas he admitted which may appear extreme to some, it places him comfortable to not go away something on the desk.

“To be trustworthy, I believe Andretti as an entire, has as a lot if no more sources than Penske or Ganassi they usually put in all probability an even bigger effort in than both a kind of groups” Kyle Kirkwood

Andretti have lengthy been thought of a part of the ‘Massive Three’ groups alongside Chip Ganassi Racing and Team Penske. Nonetheless, the wins and titles haven’t come as frequent as the 2 rival squads. Ryan Hunter-Reay was the final Andretti driver to seize the IndyCar championship, doing so in 2012. Since then, Ganassi have amassed six titles whereas Penske claimed 5.

Ganassi continued the theme in 2023 as Palou stormed to his second title over the previous three seasons. Nonetheless, there have been hints of a resurgence out of Andretti that additionally got here with rising pains.

INSIGHT: The factors that fuelled Palou’s 2023 IndyCar domination

“I believe earlier within the season it was tyre degradation, however I really feel like by the top of the yr we had an amazing deal with on our tyre degradation, which appeared to be a weak point of Andretti the previous few years earlier than I used to be even with the workforce,” Kirkwood stated.

Kirkwood scored his maiden success at Long Beach as he was battling to get to grips with tyre degradation

Picture by: Phillip Abbott / Motorsport Images

Kirkwood scored his maiden success at Lengthy Seaside as he was battling to become familiar with tyre degradation

“It is ever-changing is the irritating factor. It is not only one factor once we present as much as considered one of these occasions. The one factor that we thought that we would have had a weak point in, which was tyre degradation, we acquired a deal with on after which we present up once more and it is like, ‘Okay, now it is a totally different concern’ after which it is a totally different concern from there. It is robust to place a finger on.

“To be trustworthy I believe Andretti, as an entire, has as a lot if no more sources than Penske or Ganassi they usually put in all probability an even bigger effort in than both a kind of groups with personnel, how a lot they do and the way a lot the engineers care concerning the programme. That is one thing that I’ve by no means seen earlier than once I joined the workforce this yr; how a lot effort that they put in and the way a lot they care about it. So, it is not from an absence of effort, if I’ve to say, and I am positive due to that we are going to have a deal with on it.

“We’re not far-off. We made progress on our oval package deal.”

The 107th Working of the Indianapolis 500 on 28 Might showcased some enchancment as each Kirkwood and team-mate Colton Herta have been within the combine for victory. It led to tears for each, although, with Herta struggling pitstop woes on lap 133 of 200, whereas Kirkwood’s #27 Honda went the other way up in a violent crash after contact with Arrow McLaren’s Felix Rosenqvist on lap 183.

Ranked: The top 10 IndyCar drivers of 2023

“Me and Colton had a shot at profitable the Indy 500, I believed, if we did not have our points,” Kirkwood stated. “I really feel like we have been in all probability the second-best workforce at Iowa, which was a really massive weak point for the workforce prior to now. We should always have been racing towards or beating Ganassi there. I imply, actually the Penskes have been the one ones that have been up the street on us there then.

“We’re getting nearer. We’re always evolving and we’re figuring it out. It is simply we’re nonetheless taking small steps at it.”

11th in the 2023 standings, can Kirkwood crack the top 10 in 2024?

Picture by: Gavin Baker / Motorsport Images

eleventh within the 2023 standings, can Kirkwood crack the highest 10 in 2024?

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