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U.S. F4 champ Kirkwood’s awesome Austin F1/F4 experience

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Kyle Kirkwood captured this year’s F4 U.S. Championship Powered by Honda for Cape Motorsports, the series of which concluded at Circuit of The Americas last month in Austin.

Kirkwood, the 2016 Team USA Scholarship recipient, recaps that weekend for F4 racing on the F1 weekend, below in his latest Team USA Scholarship blog.

F4 US Championship/Rounds 19-20
Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX USA
Sunday 22 October 2017
Meet and greet with Kyle Kirkwood
World Copyright: Gavin Baker/LAT Images

Hey everyone, what a year it has been. This has been by far the most successful and enjoyable season of my career so far. We started off with 40 positions of penalties — what a disappointing situation, but the setback only ignited a fire in me. Cape Motorsports and I gave it our all to get back on top, and we did just that. We came back to sweep two consecutive weekends, take nine wins, 15 podiums and nine poles throughout the season! I really couldn’t have asked for more.

The F4 U.S. Championship powered by Honda drivers have been so fortunate to run in support of amazing series, including IMSA, NASCAR, Trans-Am, World Endurance Championship and even Formula 1! It has been incredible to say the least. My favorite race weekend was this past one at the Circuit of The Americas Formula 1 United States Grand Prix. It was actually my first time at an F1 event and it really blew me away! There were so many amazing opportunities and I stayed very busy the entire weekend.

As soon as I arrived at the track Thursday, I could feel the magnitude of the event from the thousands of fans and hospitalities scattered throughout the giant CoTA facility. I instantly made my way to the F1 paddock to view the cars – seeing them on TV doesn’t do them ANY justice. I then had the opportunity to be amongst the representatives during the launch of 2018 F3 Americas, speaking in front of many FIA members including Charlie Whiting! I typically don’t get nervous anymore but for THAT I definitely was.

That night I was invited to the annual “Buxton Bash” hosted by NBCSN’s Will Buxton along with Speed City Broadcasting. This event was at a quaint open-roof club in downtown Austin. When I arrived there, the line stretched across two city blocks and around a corner. Fortunately, I was dragged in through the fans by Speed City’s own Jonathan Green. I was only expecting to socialize with the fans and the other F4 drivers who arrived, but about 30 minutes later I found myself on stage with Will Buxton addressing the crowd immediately after Santino Ferrucci, Lance Stroll and Romain Grosjean! My excitement was through the roof and, honestly, I could hardly sleep that night.

Friday was our first day on track and it was time to get serious. The previous event at CoTA with WEC was a bit of a struggle and we fought to hang on to top-three finishes. Cape Motorsports and I had a whole month to analyze what we lacked and I was extremely confident with the car going into the first practice. The conditions in practice were very strange. It was wet early on and the curbs were freshly painted. We ended up just outside the top 10 but we made changes while the track was at its peak, so I was still positive we had everything right. In Qualifying our pace showed quickly when we jumped up to the top around Lap 5 and stayed there until the checkered flag came out.

F4 US Championship/Rounds 19-20
Circuit of The Americas, Austin, TX USA
Sunday 22 October 2017
Kyle Kirkwood (Winner), Dakota Dickerson (second) and Skylar Robinson (third) on the podium after round 20
World Copyright: Gavin Baker/LAT Images

Starting on the pole for Race One, I could feel the energy from all the fans on the grid. I looked left to see Charlie Whiting, Zak Brown and Michael Andretti standing trackside with myself on the massive TV screens all around the track. This was an extremely nerve-racking moment, but as soon as the lights came on I was back in the zone. I got the jump and held the lead for over half the race. I fought off Benjamin Pedersen, who nearly swept the last event at WEC, for many laps but he snuck around the outside of me on the back straight with about five laps to go. I finished the race in P2. Luckily for us, a huge cold front came through bringing rain to create uneven track conditions for Race Two. By the time of the race, it was intermediate conditions and all the drivers were forced to run rain tires. Our setup was absolutely perfect for the conditions and I was able to get the jump from our off-pole starting spot and consistently pulled a larger gap every lap till the end. We stretched an over 10-second lead by the checkered flag! It felt amazing to take the win in front all of the F1 teams and fans just hours before the USGP.

The F4 races may have been done but it was time to watch my first ever Formula 1 race. I stood in Turn Five for the start and the noise coming from the crowds in Turn One and across the track were louder than the actual cars! To add to my incredible weekend, about halfway through the race I walked down to the paddock to meet with the Speed City crew and they gave me the chance to announce the last few laps over the track audio! So, about 200,000 people were hearing my input on the track and strategies from a driver’s perspective. I actually announced Max Verstappen’s last-lap pass on Kimi Raikkonen for third!

What a weekend to cap off the year. Huge thank-you Cape Motorsports, Firstex, Bell Helmets, Team USA Scholarship, SAFE is FAST, and my family because none of this would be possible if it wasn’t for ALL of them.

Thanks for reading — I’ll keep you updated on what’s next!

Kyle

Rossi remains ‘The Story’ in IndyCar in 2019

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ELKHART LAKE, Wisc. – Alexander Rossi’s greatness was on full display Monday at Road America.

He started on the outside of the front row, drafted behind pole sitter Colton Herta at the drop of the green flag, pulled out a perfectly timed move to race side by side with Herta going into Turn 1.

By Turn 2 of the first lap, Rossi’s No. 27 NAPA Honda was out front and drove away from the field, easily winning the REV Group Grand Prix of Road America by nearly 30 seconds over Team Penske’s Will Power.

Rossi was so good, it appeared he was running on a different race course than the other 23 competitors. There was some outstanding racing throughout the field with 191 total passes, including 175 for position, but none of those passes were at the front.

According to Rossi’s engineer, Jeremy Milles, there was just one thing kept Rossi’s race from being deemed complete perfection.

“It we had stayed out two laps longer on the last pit stop, we would have led every single lap instead of Graham Rahal leading one lap,” Milless told NBC Sports.com. “It’s good to see when we give him a proper car, he puts it to work.

“He’s not like a lot of drivers.”

Rossi led 54 of the 55 laps in the race and defeated Power by 28.4391 seconds – a huge margin of victory by today’s standards. Back in 1982, Hector Rebaque defeated Al Unser by a full lap at the 4.014-mile, 14 Road America road course, but those were far different times than today’s very deep field in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Although it was Rossi’s second victory of the season and the seventh of his career, the 27-year-old from Nevada City, California, has been the driver everyone talks about in 2019. The win snapped a four-race streak where he finished second three times and fifth in the other.

Simon Pagenaud won the 103rdIndianapolis 500 on May 26, but the fans and media were talking about Rossi’s bold, daring moves, including some wildly aggressive passes down the front straight and to the outside in Turn 1.

Rossi had a fantastic car the next week in the first race of the Detroit Grand Prix at Belle Isle but was burned by the timing of a caution period for a crash as his main challenger, Josef Newgarden, dove into the pit area to make a stop just before pit lane closed because of the caution.

Rossi had to wait until the pits were reopened to make his stop, and that put him behind Newgarden and ultimately decided the race.

After a fifth-place finish the following day in Race No. 2, Rossi was once again standing up in his seat and on top of the steering wheel in a tremendous battle with Newgarden at Texas Motor Speedway on June 8. Rossi tried his best to make his car stick on the outside lane going into Turn 1, but when he discovered the risk was much higher than the reward, he had to begrudgingly settle for second, finishing 0.816 seconds behind the current NTT IndyCar Series points leader.

Rossi left no doubt on his Sunday drive through the Wisconsin woods as he never was challenged.

In just three short seasons, Rossi has developed into one of the greatest drivers in a generation in IndyCar. He doesn’t even have 10 victories yet, and he already had the makings of a legend.

“It’s almost like Juan Pablo Montoya, when he arrived as a rookie, he was great immediately,” Rossi’s team owner Michael Andretti told NBCSports.com after the race. “Juan is one of the greats, and I think as time moves on, Alex will prove to be one of the greats.

“He is very aggressive, very calm, very confident, everything you want in a driver. He wasn’t racing anybody all day; he was just racing himself not to make any mistakes.”

For Andretti, this is a very important time in his relationship with Rossi. The driver’s contract concludes at the end of this season, and he is the focal point of speculation on where he will race in 2020.

Before Pagenaud revived his career with a sweep of the major events at Indianapolis Motor Speedway during the Month of May, Rossi looked like “Penske Material” as the driver that would take over the No. 22 Chevrolet. After Pagenaud won the Indy 500, team owner Roger Penske assured him he would be back on the team in 2020.

Rossi’s loyalties lie with Honda. Both he and his father, Pieter, share a close relationship with the engine manufacturer that helped the former Formula One test driver at Manor find a full-time home in the NTT IndyCar Series.

Andretti told NBCSports.com on Friday that he was “optimistically confident” that he will re-sign Rossi once a sponsorship agreement with NAPA is completed.

INDYCAR Photo by Chris Jones

Andretti remains confident after Rossi’s win on Sunday.

“We’re getting there,” Andretti said. “I think we’re getting there. We are feeling pretty good about it.”

There are others, however, that aren’t as optimistic.

If Roger Penske wants a driver, who turns down an opportunity like that? After all, Team Penske is far and away the winningest team in IndyCar history, including a record 18 Indy 500 wins.

Think of these scenarios.

What if McLaren makes a substantial offer to align with Andretti Autosport for a full-time NTT IndyCar Series team in the future after McLaren’s debacle in this year’s Indy 500?

In order for that to happen, though, Andretti would have to switch to Chevrolet, because Honda ‘s parent company in Japan will no longer do business with McLaren.

The last time Andretti considered leaving Honda for Chevy, Rossi was set to leave Andretti to join another Honda team, Schmidt-Peterson Motorsports in 2017.

If Andretti Autosports and McLaren joined together, that would also mean the Andretti-aligned Harding Steinbrenner Racing would become a Chevy operation.

Honda could keep Rossi as one of its drivers by leading him to Chip Ganassi Racing. Five-time Cup Series champion Scott Dixon remains on top of his game, but it’s unlikely he will be racing Indy cars 10 years from now.

Barring unforeseen circumstance, Rossi will still be in the cockpit and winning races in a decade, and that would position Ganassi’s team for the future. The team’s second driver is rookie Felix Rosenqvist, who is currently racing with a one-year contract.

Even Rossi knows his situation for next year is complicated, which is why he chooses not to talk about it. He has developed a strong bond with Milless as his engineer and Rob Edwards (white shirt on left) as his race strategist.

Do both of those key members end up on a different team with Rossi? Edwards is a key member of management at Andretti Autosport as the Chief Operating Officer.

Rossi is as cerebral as he is aggressive. After his victory, when pressed upon his next contract, he concluded the conversation perfectly.

“I have no considerations,” Rossi said regarding his contract status. “It’s in God’s hands.”