Kirkwood heats up Indy Lights championship battle with Portland Race 2 win

The sizzling fight between championship contenders David Malukas of HMD Motorsports and Kyle Kirkwood of Andretti Autosport continued in spectacular style today with Kirkwood claiming his seventh win of the season in the Cooper Tires Indy Lights Grand Prix of Portland. Kirkwood, who started fourth, finished just over 2.5 seconds clear to whittle his points deficit to just five in arrears with four rounds remaining on the 2021 calendar.

Malukas, who claimed back-to-back Cooper Tires Pole Awards at Portland International Raceway and a series leading six in total, was out of push-to-pass range for the majority of the race, settling for second and his 13th podium of the season.

Linus Lundqvist of Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports finished third to claim back-to-back Portland podiums.

The race began under cloudy skies with temperatures in the mid-60s. Malukas made a great start to initially take charge of the 30-lap feature followed by Lundqvist and Kirkwood, who found his way around third-place qualifier Benjamin Pedersen (Global Racing Group w/ HMD Motorsports) at the start. But Malukas’ battle with Lundqvist heading into Turns 1 and 2 the following lap allowed Kirkwood to capitalize with a magnificent outside pass to slot into the lead where he was never seriously challenged.

“I am just ecstatic right now. This might be my favorite win of the season so far,” exclaimed Kirkwood. “We haven’t had it the entire weekend but we kept chipping away at it and the car was the best it’s been. It was just on rails, even on old tires. This is super important since they had three wins in a row. That one was a little bit gifted, because they went down the inside and I was able to cross them up and go around the outside with so much more momentum than they had.

“I only had one shot at it, but it was a matter of right place, right time. Once I was out front, it was just about getting out of push-to-pass range and once we did that, we were in a comfortable position. But this win is crucial for the championship and it’s super important especially on a weekend like this where they were so dominant.”

Pedersen continued his fine form with another fourth-place finish and fastest lap of the race with Robert Megennis (Andretti Autosport) again rounding out the top five.

The most entertaining battle on the track in the later stages was for sixth place between stablemates Devlin DeFrancesco (Andretti Steinbrenner Racing) and Danial Frost (Andretti Autosport), which began in earnest on lap 11 and continued until lap 22 when Frost finally charged his way through.

Christian Bogle of Carlin, who finished eighth, took home the Tilton Hard Charger Award with a gain of three positions.

The race was caution-free despite opening lap contact between Manuel Sulaiman (HMD Motorsports) and Sting Ray Robb (Juncos Hollinger Racing) which resulted in a penalty to Sulaiman for avoidable contact and major repairs for Robb, who finished 11 laps down.

Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires will head to WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca next weekend for the Indy Lights Grand Prix of Monterey Presented by Cooper Tires, a double-header round in support of the NTT IndyCar Series.

RESULTS

Provisional championship points after 16 of 20 races:
1. David Malukas, 429
2. Kyle Kirkwood, 424
3. Linus Lundqvist, 356
4. Benjamin Pedersen, 283
5. Danial Frost, 272
6. Devlin DeFrancesco, 269
7. Robert Megennis, 259
8. Toby Sowery, 236
9. Alex Peroni, 228
10. Sting Ray Robb, 191