Kyle Kirkwood hired by A.J. Foyt Racing to drive No. 14 full time in IndyCar next season

Kyle Kirkwood AJ Foyt
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Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood, the most well-rounded driver of the next wave of young IndyCar newcomers, at last has found an open seat and will drive for AJ Foyt Racing next season.

Kirkwood will drive Foyt’s flagship No. 14 Chevrolet, the team said Wednesday. Sebastien Bourdais drove the car last season but is switching to full-time sports car competition. Kirkwood will bring $1.3 million in scholarship money for winning the Indy Lights title to the team.

The 23-year-old from Florida is the only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system. He won the USF2000 title in 2018, the Indy Pro 2000 title in 2019 and the Indy Lights championship this year. The 2020 Indy Lights season was canceled during the pandemic.

Kirkwood this year tied the late Greg Moore’s 1995 record of 10 Lights victories, but despite winning half his starts and the IndyCar scholarship money, he wasn’t an automatic promotion. Andretti Autosport held his contract but Kirkwood was able to look elsewhere for work beginning Nov. 1 when Michael Andretti could not pick up the option.

Andretti has hired former Formula One driver Romain Grosjean for next season from Dale Coyne Racing, and Devlin DeFrancesco, 21, was promoted to IndyCar by Andretti last week after one winless season in Lights.

Andretti defended the DeFrancesco promotion as sticking to a plan laid out years earlier. But he also revealed that if Andretti had bought an F1 team, he’d have taken Colton Herta from IndyCar and given Kirkwood the Herta seat.

“Unfortunately the way things ended, there wasn’t room for him, but I can assure you that he’s a star of the future, and we’re definitely going to be watching him,” Andretti said last week of Kirkwood.

Kirkwood was also passed over at Rahal Letterman Lanigan, which last month named 20-year-old Formula 2 driver Christian Lundgaard as its new third driver. Meanwhile, Indy Lights rival David Malukas tested with Dale Coyne Racing and the runner-up to Kirkwood in the championship could end up there in IndyCar alongside two-time Indianapolis 500 winner Takuma Sato.

IndyCar this last season had four race winners 24 or younger, including Alex Palou of Spain, who launched his championship-winning season 17 days after his 24th birthday.

Kirkwood is highly rated and the endurance driver for the Vasser-Sullivan Racing sports car team, but lacked the sponsorship dollars many teams want drivers to bring to get the seat. Kirkwood only had his scholarship money, which is expected to cover two races and the Indy 500.

“This deal came together rather quickly, but I’ve already been impressed with how Kyle thinks about racing and the maturity he seems to have for such a young driver,” said team president Larry Foyt. “We feel Kyle will be a great asset as we take on those challenges and work to grow as a team.”

Kirkwood said Larry Foyt was one of the first people in the IndyCar paddock to take time to show him around the big leagues when they met in 2018 at Road America when Kirkwood was racing in USF2000.

“From that moment, I felt very comfortable with the atmosphere of the team and now it has come to fruition that I will be driving the No. 14,” he said.

A.J. Foyt Racing is owned by the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner, who is considered one of the greatest racers of all time.

“It’s hard to explain in words the excitement I have to drive for such an experienced and legendary team,” he said. “It’s incredible seeing the completely unexpected path I took in previous years blossom into something I’ve always hoped for as a kid in karting.”

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.