Well, we knew that the Grand Prix of Long Beach wouldn’t be able to top one of the best races in years — the PPG 375 at Texas two Sundays ago — but it was still quite an exciting race. Andretti Autosport’s Kyle Kirkwood captured the first win of his NTT IndyCar Series career in just his 20th career start, leading 53 of the 85 laps.
After a tumultuous rookie season at A.J. Foyt Racing, Kirkwood began his maiden campaign at Andretti Autosport this year, finishing 15th and 27th in the season’s first two races before Sunday’s victory in Long Beach, California.
Castroneves’ early troubles
After the green flag flew, a caution followed before the drivers were able to complete half a lap. After most of the field had made its way through Turns 1, 2 and 3, Meyer Shank Racing’s Helio Castroneves hit the wall after a mistake in Turn 1. It seemed that Castroneves used too much curb while he was going through the turn, causing him to lose control and slam the wall.
Even though Castroneves made hard contact with the wall, just the front wing was damaged. The Brazilian racer pitted to replace his front wing and went on to finish 21st and one lap down.
Although the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner is a fan favorite, we haven’t seen many positives from him since his last win in the Greatest Spectacle in Racing in 2021. I think that Castroneves should return to a part-time schedule after this season, as Helio has shown strengths on the ovals, unlike the road and street courses.
O’Ward and Dixon tangle
Lap 19 saw an incident between Chip Ganassi Racing’s Scott Dixon and Arrow McLaren’s Pato O’Ward, one that I believe was completely O’Ward’s fault.
Divebombing one of IndyCar’s greatest drivers — Dixon, a six-time champion who is known for his clean racing — was an awful decision. O’Ward had no chance of making the corner on the typical line into Turn 8, so he should’ve backed out and looked to overtake Dixon later in the lap. O’Ward’s move looked like one that would be made in a NASCAR race by Ross Chastain, not one in the IndyCar series.
After the race, Dixon voiced his displeasure with O’Ward and the stewards who decided to not discipline the McLaren driver.
“I understand there’s tire (degradation) and all that kind of stuff going on, but, you know, I wouldn’t have chosen to do that,” Dixon said in NBC’s post-race interview. “If that’s how the series wants us to race, I guess it’s all gloves off from this point.”
Dixon’s race came to an end much sooner than he would’ve liked as he began having no oil pressure on lap 38, forcing him to take his car to the paddock and ending his day.
The race stewards needed to intervene and assess O’Ward with a penalty, but they didn’t, and O’Ward ended up pulling the same exact move just seven laps later on Kirkwood. This time, though, O’Ward got a taste of his own medicine and found himself in the tire barriers, effectively ending any chance at a good finish. He went on to finish in the 17th position.
“I was on the inside and he decided to stay on the outside — well I’m pretty much alongside him, nose in front of his, at least alongside his,” O’Ward said in NBC’s post-race interview. “Don’t know what to say. I mean, I've been racing Scott for a few years, and if he feels like that was my fault, well, sorry you feel that way, but I don’t agree.”
I’m sorry Pato, but I completely disagree with you and the decision that you made. You can’t divebomb someone and not even try to make the corner as you typically would.
“Just disappointed in myself. I don’t have to be making those stupid moves. Not up to the level that I expect from myself,” O’Ward said in NBC’s post-race interview.
Kirkwood works the overcut to perfection
After taking the lead on lap 26, Team Penske’s Josef Newgarden pitted on lap 52. Andretti Autosport’s Romain Grosjean did the same on lap 53 and Kirkwood entered the pit lane for his final stop of the day on lap 54.
Kirkwood made the overcut work, staying out for a couple of laps longer and running faster lap times than those with cold tires, and regained the lead on lap 56.
The Jupiter, Florida native was able to hold onto the lead en route to victory after his Andretti Autosport teammate Romain Grosjean and Chip Ganassi Racing’s Marcus Ericsson attempted to chase him down but were ultimately unsuccessful.
After driving his No. 27 AutoNation Honda into victory lane, Kirkwood was elated with being on the top step of the podium for the first time in his young career.
“Oh my gosh, what a day,” Kirkwood said in NBC’s post-race interview. “The calmest day I’ve had in two years, and it was a win.
Kirkwood won the pole for the first time in his career Saturday and was happy with qualifying in the first position, but winning the race was a different story.
“I am over the moon right now,” Kirkwood said in NBC’s post-race interview. “This is incredible, for the whole team and for everyone.”
The NTT IndyCar Series will return to action at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Alabama, with the Children’s of Alabama Indy Grand Prix taking place on April 30.