Indy Lights champion Kyle Kirkwood, the most well-rounded driver of the next wave of young IndyCar newcomers, has at last found an open seat and will drive for A.J. 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 due to the coronavirus 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 21-year-old Devlin DeFrancesco last week was promoted to IndyCar by Andretti 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 would 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 had only 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," Kirkwood 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," Kirkwood 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."