Kyle Kirkwood earned his first career NTT INDYCAR SERIES pole Saturday, grabbing the NTT P1 Award for the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Florida, won the top spot for the prestigious Southern California street race with a best time of 1 minute, 6.2878 seconds on his final lap in the Firestone Fast Six in the No. 27 AutoNation Honda. Kirkwood’s previous best starting spot in his NTT INDYCAR SERIES career was fifth in March at the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg presented by RP Funding, his first race with Andretti Autosport after spending his rookie season in 2022 with AJ Foyt Racing.
“Our car is on fire this weekend,” Kirkwood said. “We’re doing really good. I’m ecstatic. We’re just constantly chipping away at it, getting better and better, and I couldn’t be any happier than this. Third weekend with the team, and I already got a pole.”
Marcus Ericsson, winner of the season-opening street race at St. Petersburg, will join Kirkwood on the front row after a top lap of 1:06.3253 in the No. 8 Huski Chocolate Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. That tied Ericsson’s career-best start of second, set in 2022 on the oval at World Wide Technology Raceway, and is his best start on a road or street course.
Live coverage of the 85-lap race starts at 3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBC, Peacock, INDYCAR LIVE and the INDYCAR Radio Network. Peacock and the INDYCAR Radio Network will cover the 30-minute warmup session starting at noon ET.
Romain Grosjean will start third after a top lap of 1:06.5347 in the No. 28 DHL Honda, one of two Andretti Autosport cars in the top three. 2021 series champion Alex Palou will start fourth after a best lap of 1:06.5549 in the No. 10 Ridgeline Lubricants Honda.
Six-time series champion Scott Dixon was the second Ganassi driver in the Fast Six and will start fifth after a quick lap of 1:06.5730 in the No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda. Pato O’Ward, who led the first two practice sessions this weekend, was the fastest Chevy-powered driver after rounding out the Fast Six at 1:06.6039 in the No. 5 Arrow McLaren Chevrolet.
The first career pole was the highlight of Kirkwood’s young NTT INDYCAR SERIES career, which started last season after he became the first driver to win titles in successive seasons in USF2000, USF Pro 2000 and INDY NXT by Firestone. Kirkwood’s rookie year with the Foyt team was marred by incidents, and he finished a disappointing 24th in the standings.
But a first NTT P1 Award created a mixture of vindication and validation for Kirkwood. “It’s just a step in the right direction, in my mind,” Kirkwood said. “I knew this day would come. I didn’t know whether this day would come this late or this early. There are a lot of tough guys out here. But it’s kind of solidifying myself, right? It’s like, ‘OK, he can do this now.’”
Kirkwood earned his spot in the Firestone Fast Six on a pair of used alternate guayule Firestone tires in the Round of 12, saving his brand-new tires for the final round. That ploy paid off and was just part of the drama that engulfed the latter stages of the second round of qualifying.
“We did our lap on the used tires, I thought, “Man, the car feels really good on Lap 2, but it’s going to be hard to get it done on Lap 1, which is what you saw right there in the Fast Six,” Kirkwood said.
In the second round, Marcus Armstrong ran into the tire barrier in Turn 9 in the No. 11 The American Legion Honda, triggering a red flag with 53 seconds remaining. Standouts Ericsson, Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Grosjean were outside the top six when the red flag flew.
Armstrong was unhurt but eliminated from qualifying. INDYCAR officials ruled that all 11 remaining drivers in the session had one final flying lap in the second round, creating a dramatic run to earn a spot in the Firestone Fast Six.
Grosjean jumped to the top of the Top 12 runners with his final lap, with Ericsson slotting into fourth and Dixon sixth. Colton Herta, Felix Rosenqvist and Josef Newgarden were bounced from earning a spot in the Fast Six on that last lap.
Armstrong, who will start 12th, wasn’t the only driver to make contact during qualifying. David Malukas crashed out of the first round after contact in Turn 4 in the No. 18 HMD Honda. He was unhurt and will start 25th in the 27-car field.