Kyle Kirkwood wins 2021 Indy Lights title

Kirkwood Indy Lights championship
Gavin Baker Photography/Road to Indy
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Kyle Kirkwood clinched the 2021 Indy Lights championship and $1.3 million ticket to the NTT IndyCar Series this past weekend at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

After winning Saturday’s 30-lap opening event for his fourth consecutive victory (tying the late Greg Moore’s 1995 Indy Lights record with his 10th triumph this season), Kirkwood, 22, finished fifth Sunday.

The Jupiter, Florida, native needed only to start to wrap up the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires title and a $1.3 million scholarship that guarantees a minimum of three IndyCar races (including the 106th Indy 500) in 2022. He finished 13 points ahead of David Malukas (537-524) in the championship standings after 20 races.

Kirkwood drives for Andretti Autosport, which reportedly is considering him for a full-time IndyCar ride next season.

“To bring it home today and get this scholarship, it’s such a big relief,” Kirkwood said. “It’s been such a stressful season, especially at the end. We really had to push to beat (Malukas), they’ve been knocking on our door all season long. To get the win yesterday was crucial, and to survive today was crucial, though I have to say today was even harder than yesterday.

“But this is insane. I can’t thank everyone enough: Cape Motorsports, RP Motorsports, Andretti Autosport. It’s been an incredible four years. I’ve learned so much this year from the Andretti team. They’ve really taught me so much and I can’t thank them enough. And huge thanks especially to my entire 28 crew, they’ve worked so hard.”

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Malukas won Saturday and charged from last to second Sunday (behind winner Linus Lundqvist) after an opening-lap crash on the 2.258-mile road course.

“I couldn’t get any temp in the tires, and I knew it would be a problem going into Turn One,” he said. “Everyone was spinning and sliding all over the place. But that’s almost like a win, since I made it hard on myself.

“I decided to just have fun out there, going left, right, everywhere to try and make it happen. I’m really happy, even though we finished second today and in the championship. The team has shown what we can do. I feel as though I’ve matured so much over the past two years, and I’ve enjoyed this season so much. We battled the whole way and it’s been great to share that with this team, so a huge thank you to the team. This has been a year to remember.”

Mid-Ohio concluded the Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires season for the three ladder series to IndyCar. Here’s how the other two divisions ended:

–Indy Pro 2000: Christian Rasmussen of Copenhagen, Denmark, won the championship as James Roe scored his first series victory Sunday.

Rasmussen, 21, also won the 2000 USF2000 championship. He started last and finished third in the finale, which he needed only to start to clinch the title. “I knew that as soon as I saw the green flag, I was the champion, so I had nothing to lose,” he said. “I could just enjoy the moment and enjoy the race. Now I can start to think about 2022 and Indy Lights.”

–USF2000: Kiko Porto of Brazil clinched the championship Saturday and then notched his 10th podium finish in Sunday’s season finale, which was won by Josh Green (his first series victory).