Kyle Kirkwood is using his extensive knowledge of the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course to his advantage this weekend, giving himself extra time to focus on car setup rather than re-learning how to drive the track.
To say Kirkwood has been dominant at Mid-Ohio would not be an exaggeration. The 24-year-old raced on the track nine times over the course of three seasons in IndyCar’s feeder series. And he won all but one of them.
Jack Harvey and Pato O’Ward each won a couple races at Mid-Ohio in Indy Lights (now IndyNXT), but neither have had the kind of success that Kirkwood brings.
Even before the he joined the official IndyCar ladder, Kirkwood had competed on the track 12 other times in lower formulae as a teenager.
The 2.26-mile track is obviously a natural fit for him, and he no longer has to think about the course itself despite only being in his sophomore year as a top-level driver.
Kirkwood finished fifth in the opening practice session on Friday, higher than all of his Andretti Autosport team-mates, and was asked how much his prior experience helps him get up to speed quickly.
“Massively,” said Kirkwood without hesitation. “I probably have twice the amount of time around this place than I do anywhere else. So, I mean, that’s huge, right?
“Just confidence level when you go out for the first couple laps, you’re not uncomfortable by any sense. That’s the main thing. That just makes the weekend go smoother.
“When you’re not on the back foot in the first session, everything can go smooth, you start nailing what you need right away instead of sorting out the driving portion and then figuring out what you need to do.”
As a rookie, Kirkwood was on track to have his best finish to date at Mid-Ohio last year, but contact knocked him out of the race from a top 10 position.
He will look to have a better result this weekend, with his comfort helping to give him pace straight away.