Kirkwood Wins First IMSA Prototype Challenge Race of the Season
 January 8, 2020| 
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“To win at Daytona is really special – I can check this one off my bucket list!”

Kyle Kirkwood, the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires champion, started the new year in style, capturing an IMSA Prototype Challenge victory at the legendary Daytona International Speedway. With the victory, Kirkwood holds some impressive statistics over the past two years: since the beginning of 2018, the 21-year-old Floridian has scored 38 victories in 51 races, for an astounding winning percentage of 75%.

The Prototype Challenge Championship serves as a development series for IMSA, featuring closed-cockpit, closed-wheel, rear-engine LMP3 cars, with three different chassis manufacturers and spec engines. Kirkwood won his debut race in the series in November of 2018, pairing with Roman De Angelis at the IMSA Encore exhibition event at Sebring International Raceway (De Angelis would go on to capture both the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge USA and Canada series championships in 2019.)

galstad-ROAR-0120-178627The day did not begin in auspicious style for Kirkwood and co-drivers Jonatan Jorge and Joel Janco. Early in the race and with the track only beginning to recover from a pre-race downpour, the Forty7 Motorsports Norma M30 was hit by their spinning teammate going into the Bus Stop, damaging the left rear of the car. Kirkwood took the wheel with just over an hour to go, in fourth position and a lap down. He easily passed the top three cars to get back on the lead lap, and a timely caution put him at the back of the field when the green flag came out with 28 minutes left in the race.

Reminiscent of his last-to-first win at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway last summer, Kirkwood made quick work of the field, driving from last to fourth in line when the final caution flag flew. Passing third and second on the restart, Kirkwood made the move on fellow Road to Indy veteran Dakota Dickerson to take the lead with 18 minutes remaining. He went on to win with a nearly nine-second gap.

For Kirkwood, job one was once again getting used to driving with a roof over his head.

“It’s awkward when I first go out, but I get acclimated quickly,” saidgalstad-ROAR-0120-189787 Kirkwood. “It’s mostly about getting over the sightline differences – when you go into a corner, you’re looking for an apex but all you see is a pillar! You can’t see much behind you either, so you have to look up to see the rear-view camera instead of looking for the mirrors and rely on your spotter. But the driving style isn’t that much different from, say, the Indy Pro 2000 car. It’s a heavier car, so braking is a bit different, but it reacts very similarly.”

Another difference between open wheel and sports cars is the concept of sharing the car with co-drivers. Jorge has acted as Kirkwood’s coach and spotter for several years, and with Janco’s extensive resume in the series, the all-Florida trio was a perfect fit. 

“Both JJs did a great job of setting us up for victory, even when we were a lap down. They gave me a perfect platform to walk away with it. We were consistent through the end, quicker than anyone else out there. It seems as though I had more braking capability than anyone else so every time I caught up to someone, I could just brake later and make the corner. All I had to do was drive the car. The car was on rails, all credit to the team.”

Kirkwood has seen other Road to Indy Presented by Cooper Tires drivers, like Rinus VeeKay, use winter racing to their advantage when the season begins. Does having race weekend experience – and a dominant race win – under his belt give him extra confidence going into his first Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires season?

“This is big for me. In the past, I haven’t driven at all early in the year. The Road to Indy Spring Training test at Homestead was always the first time I got into a car. This year, I’ve done an Indy Lights test and a full race weekend. So this, combined with more Indy Lights testing, will start off my year really strong. Winning just a couple of days into 2020 gives us great confidence.”

Photo credit: IMSA Photo

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