Kirkwood: Pre-season test speed has translated to now

The Honda-powered Andretti Autosport team took two of the top four spots at St. Petersburg in opening practice for IndyCar’s first round of 2023, with Colton Herta second, behind pacesetter Scott Dixon, and Kirkwood fourth, less than four-hundredths of a second adrift around the one-minute lap.

“We just rolled off of two amazing tests at Thermal [Club] and Sebring,” said the 24-year-old from Jupiter, Florida, who won all three ladder series to IndyCar. “All of the speed that we’ve had in pre-season testing has translated to now.

“It’s definitely really nice to roll into a weekend with some pace, right? I mean, as everyone knows, INDYCAR is so close, if you’re behind by a couple 10ths, you’re usually fighting to get that all weekend. It’s a good feeling, especially since Colton is up there, too.”

Kirkwood, who spent his first IndyCar season at AJ Foyt Racing, said switching back to the team with whom he captured the Indy Lights title in 2021 – and completed three IndyCar tests – had been a blessing.

“It makes it easy” he remarked. “It doesn’t feel like I’m with a new team. It feels like I’m with a team I know very well and have been with in the past… It’s a good feeling. Not like it’s taken me time to adapt to them, how they operate or anything. I think we rolled out good right away…

“I think it’s definitely important. From the outside looking in, it’s not as important for me or the team, but I guess for the persona around the team and myself based on my last year of performance being so up and down, to start up the year on a high and kind of continue that trait.

“I think the expectation will continue to be that from the outside, and people will remember what I was in the junior formulas, so…

Nonetheless Kirkwood, appreciates his time at Foyt, believing he learned much a lot about wheel-to-wheel combat by being in a less competitive team.

He said: “Being in the middle of the pack, having to race for things and drive to your absolute limit always is going to make you a better driver, I find. If I look back to my junior year in formulas, like F4, USF2000, Indy Pro 2000, Indy Lights, a lot of races I was just sitting there leading. I felt like I didn’t learn much.

“Being in the middle of the pack, having to race guys, push my all, which is something I didn’t have to do a ton in my junior formulas, definitely honed me in to be a better driver.

“Days like today [after] you have a season like that, you come into a year with how fast you’ve been all through testing, now is a really good feeling. It definitely gives me more confidence than I feel like I’ve ever had.”

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