By TIM YUJI YAMAMOTO, Special to The Rafu
LONG BEACH — Kyle Kirkwood won the 48th Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 16.
Kirkwood drove his AutoNation Andretti Autosport #27 from pole to finish, followed by teammate Romain Grosjean #28 in second with Marcus Ericsson #8 coming in third place.
The day before the race, Kirkwood, from Jupiter, Fla., earned his first career pole Saturday, grabbing the NTT P1 Award for the Acura Grand Prix. It is the first win for Kirkwood in his 20th race start and second year in NTT Indycar Series racing.
At the post-race interview session, Kirkwood was asked how it felt to get his first IndyCar win. “Ultimately, I’ve just had a moment of calmness,” he said. “It’s kind of shook the monkey off my back a little bit” — referring to conditions out of his control during the race and in the first two races on the season.
Kirkwood led 53 of 85 laps, the lead changing when Josef Newgarden came out ahead after a good exit from the pits and a car in front of Kirkwood slowed his momentum, allowing Newgarden to pass.
Newgarden made his second pit on Lap 52. Grosjean pitted on Lap 53 and Kirkwood pitted on Lap 54. Last year’s winner, Newgarden, eventually found himself going into fuel conserve mode driving his Chevy powered Hitachi/Penske #2. This allowed Kirkwood, Grosjean and Ericsson to regain their top three positions on Lap 56.
It has been mentioned that the Honda engine has a slightly better advantage in fuel consumption on street courses. Grosjean had ample push to pass remaining usually (150-200 seconds determined by the race distance and the total length of the course) but couldn’t use the extra boost in horsepower because of fuel concerns with him pitting a lap before Kirkwood.
Drivers press a button on the steering wheel, the engine is momentarily powered up by about 40-50 horsepower, helping to overtake other cars. The maximum usage time is 15 to 20 seconds per burst and is called Push to Pass.
According to Honda Racing, Honda-powered drivers and teams have now won the Grand Prix of Long Beach 16 times in 23 appearances. This includes victories in nine of the last 14 races; and a seven-year victory streak in Championship Auto Racing Teams (CART) competition, against multi-manufacturer competition, from 1996-2002.
This is Honda’s 280th race win in North American open wheel racing, and 170th win in competition with other manufacturers. The Honda Indy V6, officially called the Honda HI12TT/R, is a 2.2-liter, twin-turbocharged, aluminum alloy V-6 engine racing engine with a direct-indirect fuel-injection combination power output: 550-750 hp (410-560 kW) @ 10,500-12,200 rpm.
Past Long Beach winner and two-time Indy 500 champion Takuma Sato is always associated with Honda power. He joins Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2023 NTT Indycar Series season for all five oval events. Although his presence was missing at Long Beach, he will drive the #11 Niterra/Honda looking for his third win in the 107th Indianapolis 500 on May 28.
Photos by TIM YUJI YAMAMOTO