Indy Lights title winner hits the open market for 2022

Kyle Kirkwood (right)

The battle for newly crowned Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood’s services could soon go into overdrive after the 23-year-old confirmed he’s now scouring the open market.

Kirkwood has won a string of titles in recent years including the US F2000 National Championship in 2018 and Indy Pro 2000 Championship the following season.

He stepped up to Indy Lights this year after the 2020 second-tier campaign had been cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and duly won half of the 20 races to seal the series crown at first attempt.

He achieved that Indy Lights success with powerhouse Andretti Autosport, where his path to the top level appears to be blocked.

Andretti already had IndyCar Series race winners Colton Herta and Alexander Rossi under contract for 2022, and in September announced the recruitment of Romain Grosjean.

Its fourth seat is widely expected to be filled by fellow 2021 Andretti Indy Lights driver Devlin DeFrancesco.

Following a test day at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course, Kirkwood revealed he was now, as of November 1, contractually allowed to talk to rival teams.

“As of today, which today is November 1st (local time), I’ve been given permission to look elsewhere,” he said.

“I haven’t been able to have conversations. I don’t know exactly what I can and cannot say, so I’m going to keep my mouth shut on the direction.”

Kirkwood noted his camp has “a direction” for what their 2022 racing activities will look like, albeit saying the opportunity to stay with Andretti “would be the best predicament for me”.

“Given that I’ve done three tests with them now, knowing the engineers, the mechanics, kind of the whole operation, it’s very similar from Indy Lights to IndyCar how they operate,” he added.

“Jumping in and not having to learn a whole new team’s system would be beneficial for me, yeah.”

However, if a full-time opportunity is not forthcoming, a split may become inevitable.

“I mean, ideally we do all of them [events on the 2022 schedule],” said Kirkwood, who is guaranteed starts at St. Petersburg, the Indianapolis Grand Prix, and the Indy 500 next year as part of his reward for conquering Indy Lights.

“That’s what I’m pushing for right now. My focus isn’t really places where I’m only going to get a few races. We still have a lot of time.

“If push comes to shove, we have to do a few races, obviously I’m going to try and maximise it, get as many races as I possibly can. Ideally we just don’t do three.”

Among others in attendance at the Indianapolis test was 2021 Indy Lights runner-up David Malukas, who is tipped to be Dale Coyne Racing-bound.

Malukas and Takuma Sato have been mooted to make for an all-new DCR line-up, replacing Ed Jones and Grosjean.

Among other movement is Team Penske’s downscaling from four cars to three, with Simon Pagenaud departing to Meyer Shank Racing where he’ll partner Helio Castroneves.

Jack Harvey in turn has switched to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, effectively taking Sato’s place; he’ll have Graham Rahal and Christian Lundgaard for team-mates.

Among the questions still to be filled is whether former Andretti stalwart Ryan Hunter-Reay indeed will drive for Ed Carpenter Racing, having tested for the squad last month.

It’s likely, if that comes to fruition, that Hunter-Reay would be the designated road and street course driver of the #20, with team boss Ed Carpenter taking over for ovals.

It would seem there are few undecided seats left for Kirkwood to now pursue.

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