In a field full of former champions, it was a newcomer who claimed the checkered flag on a beautiful Sunday. Kyle Kirkwood arrived with promise, and leaves a champion as he was the best driver this year, leading 53 of 85 laps and finishing first to bring home the win at the 48th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach.
“It’s incredible, I was trying to hold back tears in the car, that’s something I’ve never felt before,” said Kirkwood after. “During my entire career (coming up the ladder) I’ve won a lot of races and always wanted more. Today was the first time I’ve gotten to soak it in and acknowledge that I’ve done something incredible.”
Kirkwood, just 24 years old, won his first-ever pole on Saturday as the fastest qualifier, and admitted in a post-race interview that he would have been happy with just that accomplishment. Instead, a crafty race strategy and great defensive driving down the stretch gives him his first-ever IndyCar win, made all the more special for happening in Long Beach.
“To have my first win at Long Beach is something incredible,” he said. “This is such a special place. … It’s this race and Indianapolis. It’s so cool.”
Kirkwood led early and then retook the lead coming out of the pits on lap 52 of 85, jumping in front of defending champion Josef Newgarden. Kirkwood led the first 22 laps and was well out in front before Newgarden took the lead on lap 22 after a full-course caution, holding the lead for 30 laps before Kirkwood took it back for good.
The podium finish saw Romain Grosjean in second, and Marcus Ericsson in third.
The packed crowd was denied a chance to see a duel between Kirkwood and Andretti Autosports teammate Grosjean down the stretch. Grosjean had more than two minutes of “push to pass” boost in the tank, but was low enough on fuel that he wasn’t able to use it.
“I had to save a lot of fuel and I wasn’t allowed to use it,” he said. “It sucks. I just wanted to push the button but I wasn’t allowed to.”
Grosjean said he was happy to have a teammate win the race and that he didn’t want to risk anything by pushing too hard.
“I didn’t even want to go for the win, it would’ve been taking too much risk,” he said. “Kyle deserved the race. He drove a brilliant weekend. I wish I had a win for my birthday, but P2—I’ll take it.”
Ericsson’s third place finish brought some strong consolation in that he now climbs to the top of the IndyCar leaderboard in the season championship chase three races in, followed by Pato O’Ward, Alex Palou, Newgarden and Kirkwood.
It was a special Sunday for Andretti Autosports, and the Andretti family who have such a rich history in Long Beach. Team owner Michael Andretti won the first and last races of his IndyCar career in Long Beach, and his father Mario won the race four times and is still the only American to win an F1 race on American soil. Michael was on the mic with Kirkwood as he finished the race and told him to soak the moment in.
“He’ll remember this day for a long, long time, in fact probably forever,” he said. “It’s always extra special (to get your first win) in a place like Long Beach, with great history and great fans. For us, this has been a very special place, there’s so many things we’ve been able to do here in Long Beach.”
Of his talented young driver Kirkwood, Andretti wouldn’t be surprised if fans in Long Beach get to see more wins from him in the coming years.
“He’s the real deal,” said Andretti.
As always, there was some wild action on the track, with the biggest incident coming on lap 26 after an aggressive move by O’Ward, who spun out on turn eight while trying to pass, putting the field under caution.
This year’s event saw strong attendance with reserved seats sold out on Sunday (with exact attendance numbers not yet available) as well as the usual perfect Long Beach weather. The Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach will return next April for the 49th running of the city’s premier sports event; race organizers last year inked a deal with the city to keep it going through 2028.
The race traversed a 1.97-mile, 11-turn street circuit surrounding the Long Beach Convention Center and started at 12:45 p.m., broadcast live on NBC.