MRTI: Kyle Kaiser seeks to maintain momentum heading to Phoenix

Photo: Indianapolis Motor Speedway, LLC Photography

After one weekend in the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires at the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, there’s a Kyle as the meat in the middle of a Felix sandwich.

While Felix Serralles and Felix Rosenqvist split the race wins and nearly split the points – 49 to 47 – coming out of St. Petersburg, the intermediary is Kyle Kaiser, who was the only driver to bag two podium finishes out of the weekend.

Kaiser now heads to Phoenix in his No. 18 Intervision/NetApp/Juniper Networks Dallara IL-15 Mazda for Juncos Racing with 48 points, on the strength of third and second place finishes, and seeking his first win to go along with his first pole at St. Petersburg.

“Absolutely that’s the goal, that, and modeling myself after my teammate (Spencer Pigot) last year,” the 20-year-old Californian told NBC Sports.

“He had a lot of podium finishes and that’s what you have to do in this field. You want the win, but I’m happy with consistency at the podium.”

Kaiser had a tough start in Saturday’s first race of the weekend and fell back behind the trio of Zach Veach, Serralles and Scott Hargrove, but recovered to third in the opening race.

With a better start in the second race, he was pushing Rosenqvist for the win best as he could and got clear of Veach for second.

“The goal today was to move forward,” he said. “I’d had a good plan. I was hoping Felix (Rosenqvist) would get a better start today. But you could tell he learned a lot on Saturday with what was probably his first rolling start in a while.

“I was glad he got a good start, and I tried to stay right behind him. I’ve watched all the starts. If you get the inside line, most of the time you’ll move up. So I’m happy with how I executed.”

Admittedly the Phoenix oval later this week presents a significant challenge by comparison. Kaiser ended with a best time of 22.1645 seconds, at 165.995 mph during the single day test in February. But he’s motivated to carry the momentum.

“Like I’ve told others, we have the confidence coming in,” Kaiser said. “It doesn’t translate to setup, but we’re entering from a position of strength. I’m super confident, and I love the ovals.”

Kaiser finished ninth (Milwaukee) and fourth (Iowa) on the two short ovals last year in Indy Lights.

After Will Power extension, Marcus Ericsson among IndyCar drivers awaiting new deals

IndyCar free agents
Chris Owens, Joe Skibinski/Penske Entertainment

FORT WORTH, Texas – Defending series champion Will Power’s name is off the board of potential IndyCar free agents, but there’s still much to be settled in the field – starting with the reigning Indy 500 winner.

Marcus Ericsson is waiting on a contract offer to remain with Chip Ganassi Racing beyond the 2023 season (his fourth with the team). The Swede said he’s made it clear to car owner Chip Ganassi that he wants to stay in the No. 8 Dallara-Honda, which has four victories since June 2021.

“Yeah, it’s up to him, basically,” Ericsson said Friday at Texas Motor Speedway. “He needs to give me an offer for ’24 onward. The ball is in his corner. I really enjoy it at Ganassi, and we’ve done a lot of great things together and would love to continue, but the ball is in his corner. He knows very well what I want.”

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Two days before Ericsson won the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg season opener March 5, Ganassi sang the praises of the emerging star driver to a small group of reporters.

“I want him here beyond this year,” Ganassi said of Ericsson. “He seems to have gotten more out of winning the Indy 500 than anyone else has of recent time, which is a good thing. He did a good job. He’s been everywhere. It’s been a really positive thing for Marcus, the team, the series. He’s grown with that as well.”

Ericsson didn’t sew up his current deal until late in his breakthrough 2021 season (after a memorable victory in the inaugural Music City Grand Prix). So he isn’t necessarily anxious about it but conceded he “was thinking a bit about it over the winner in the offseason and talking about it

“But now that the season has started, I told my managers and everyone I want to focus on the driving. They focus on those things. Now the season is on, and I want to try to win races, win another 500 and championship. That’s where my focus is. (A new contract) is one of those things that happens when it happens. But I’m happy where I am, and I want to do well.”

IndyCar’s two best teams, Team Penske and Chip Ganassi Racing, tend to be very tight-lipped about their drivers’ contract status.

Power confirmed Friday to journalist Bruce Martin that his new deal was for multiple seasons. That means all three of Penske’s drivers are in multiple-year contracts (unlike Power’s deal, Scott McLaughlin’s extension was announced by the team last year).

But there is more uncertainty at Ganassi’s four cars aside from Ericsson. While Scott Dixon has a ride for as long as he wants (and the six-time champion has given no indication of retiring), Ganassi’s other two other seats have yet to be solidified beyond 2023.

The No. 11 is being split this year by rookie Marcus Armstrong and veteran Takuma Sato this season. In  the No. 10, Alex Palou is believed to be in his final year at Ganassi before heading to Arrow McLaren.

That expected move would cast doubt on the future of Felix Rosenqvist, who returned to Arrow McLaren when the team was unable to bring in Palou (who was embroiled in a contract dispute with Ganassi).

Aside from Penske, virtually every other IndyCar team (including Andretti Autosport, Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing and Meyer Shank Racing, which has Helio Castroneves in a contract year) has seats that potentially could open for next season, and even drivers who appear to be under contract for next year still could be on the move (via buyouts and option years).

Though Juncos Hollinger Racing announced a “long-term, multiyear contract partnership” last July with Callum Ilott, but the second-year driver was cagey Friday when asked about how long the extension ran.

“It’s for whatever I want it to be,” said Ilott, who finished a career-best fifth at St. Petersburg. “I’ll say that.”

Before returning to JHR, Ilott turned enough heads as a rookie to draw interest from several teams, and he indicated Friday that he still would be listening.

“I’d love to talk to some other big teams,” Ilott said. “Nothing stops me from talking. Look, you’ve got to be fair. I agreed to (the deal), but it’s pretty obvious that I’m quite interested as people are interested in me as a driver, but I need to focus on the job I’ve got here.

“I’m confident whether it’s in one year, two years, three years, four years, that if I’m wanted now, I’ll always be wanted. I’m a good enough driver that I don’t need to lack confidence in that side. … I’m not worried.”