Home Local NewsLocal SportsRiverside Kyle Kirkwood’s 2023 win in Grand Prix of Long Beach was life-changing

Kyle Kirkwood’s 2023 win in Grand Prix of Long Beach was life-changing

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It’s been a life-changing year for Kyle Kirkwood since winning the 2023 Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.

“When you get a win in IndyCar it’s a very big deal, obviously, and even more that it came at Long Beach which is one of our marquee races,” Kirkwood said. “It’s been huge to my career and my existence in the sport, really.”

The victory at Long Beach was Kirkwood’s first checkered flag in the NTT IndyCar Series and quieted industry critics after a disappointing 2022 debut for the 2021 Indy Lights champion.

“I’ve won every single championship coming up and a multitude of races every year and then coming into IndyCar my first year (in ’22) and barely sniffing Top 10s,” Kirkwood said. “That’s a tough thing to accept and it just goes to show how tough the competition is here.”

He returns to Long Beach looking to become the first to win back-to-back IndyCar Series races on the 1.968-mile road course since Alexander Rossi in 2018 and 2019.

LOTS TO LOVE ABOUT LONG BEACH

Kirkwood was on top of the winner’s podium last year when boss Michael Andretti quietly told him that his first win also had been at Long Beach.

“I didn’t know that until he told me,” Kirkwood said. “It’s something I definitely should’ve known. I thought that was so cool.”

Kirkwood certainly kept his cool, leading 53 laps and crossing the line nearly a second before Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean last year.

The victory has made Kirkwood a forever fan of the famed Southern California motorsports event, first held in 1975 and the longest-running major street race held in North America.

“It’s a very historic event in many, many ways and it’s so cool that we get to drive down Shoreline Drive and have the same history that’s been there forever,” Kirkwood said. “I love it. I love coming back here.”

And the weather – Sunday’s forecast calls for 75-degree temperatures with mixed sun and clouds – is always just right on race day.

“The weather is obviously perfect when you come here,” he said. “We go to a lot of places where the weather is hectic and there are changes in the weather and you’re always adapting to that, but here you kind of know what you’re going to get.

“It’s usually sunny, clear blue skies, light winds and cool, crisp weather which is what Indy cars like so it’s great,” Kirkwood said. “There are two places that you can drive year-round, and that’s Florida and California.”

A MEMBER OF THE FAMILY

The South Florida native never dreamed he’d drive for Andretti Global Autosport or be welcomed like a member of the family.

“Really, just having the whole family and the organization around me; Mario goes to absolutely everything (and) he’s one of the nicest, most down-to-earth people in the IndyCar paddock,” Kirkwood said. “It’s so cool just to be a part of their family.”

Kirkwood and Andretti announced last June that the 27-year-old driver would return this year to replace the departing Rossi, and Kirkwood now is in his third season, one of three drivers in the Andretti IndyCar stable.

“It’s not something that I would’ve even thought was a possibility when I was 12 or 13 years old, let alone when I was 5 when I started carting,” Kirkwood said. “It’s been something that’s been super surreal.”

Kirkwood proved worth the investment with two victories last season, first at Long Beach and then at the Music City Grand Prix later in the year.

“The effort that the team puts in and how big of an organization it is; we only run three IndyCars and still it’s absolutely massive and how much effort goes into it,” he said. “There’s like 70 or 80 people working nonstop in the shop on any given day. It’s crazy and was something that was very, very eye-opening to me.”

Kirkwood said that the organization has helped him level-set expectations for his career.

“When you walk into the lobby on Andretti Global, the amount of trophies that are sitting around, it’s just trophies everywhere and it’s not really all of them, it’s just the big ones that they have,” he said. “It’s like ‘Man, I need to do a lot to catch up,’ if I’m being honest.”

The win at Long Beach last year, “helped drastically for my career and for my future really,” he said. “It’s crazy what one win will do to you.”

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