The Long Beach street circuit is one of the most prestigious tracks on the NTT IndyCar Series calendar, and played host to a fantastic race that saw Josef Newgarden hold off Romain Grosjean and Alex Palou for his second consecutive win of the season.
For five members of this rookie class, this was their first Grand Prix of Long Beach. It proved to be difficult for many, as half of the class did not finish the race while only one finished in the top fifteen. What issues plagued the young stars? Who managed to shine bright? We’re going to break it all down in this week’s IndyCar Series Rookie Report.
KYLE KIRKWOOD – AJ FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWELFTH – RACE: TENTH (+2)
Kirkwood once again showed his talent this weekend, and was the only rookie to finish inside the top fifteen. This was the best finish of his young career so far, and his first career top-ten finish in the NTT IndyCar Series.
What’s most impressive about Kirkwood’s weekend is his consistency. In both practice sessions as well as the race, Kirkwood finished in tenth place. The only blemish being his twelfth-place qualifying performance, which wasn’t much of a blemish at all. Kirkwood became the first rookie to reach the second round of qualifying, beating out race-winning talent in Graham Rahal and Rinus Veekay in the first round of qualifying to advance.
The Florida native was elated after the race, and shared how proud he was of the team’s work despite overtaking difficulties.
“It’s a sweet ‘win’ for us because we’ve had a couple of finishes we didn’t want with the pace we had. Today we had the pace and we were able to show that,” Kirkwood said.
“The restarts here are just so tough because you come out of the last corner and it’s a massive accordion effect. You can’t make passes happen into Turn One. It’s so tight between the walls to make the passes anywhere else. It’s just so difficult.”
“We’re right there with the big dogs and we’re right there with the big teams. We were quick today and we showed that. All we did was go forward. It was solid points for the team. I’m super happy and everyone is smiling.”
TATIANA CALDERON – AJ FOYT ENTERPRISES
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-SIXTH – RACE: SIXTEENTH (+10)
AJ Foyt Enterprises stand alone at the top of the Rookie Report this week, as Calderon came home with a brilliant sixteenth place finish to put both Foyt rookies as the top two rookie finishers at Long Beach.
Making her return on her road and street course program, Calderon benefitted greatly by not doing the things many of her colleagues did, make mistakes. A clean race allowed for the Colombia native to sit just outside the top fifteen in only her second IndyCar Series start, a result that will surely give her a significant boost in confidence.
“I feel much more confident in the car, even on pit stops and making little adjustments and learning how to deal with the tires better,” Calderon said.
“Of course, we want to be fighting more people in the next couple of races. The steps we took were huge and I’ll carry that confidence into Barber.”
CHRISTIAN LUNDGAARD – RAHAL LETTERMAN LANIGAN RACING
QUALIFYING: NINETEENTH – RACE: EIGHTEENTH (+1)
Lundgaard suffered a setback early in the race when his car ran out of fuel as he was coming onto pit lane for his first pit stop, putting him behind the proverbial eight-ball three laps down. The Dane was disappointed in the team’s lack of pace all weekend, but feels optimism about a rebound for the team at the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama.
“We will come back strong at Barber. It’s a road course so we will be there,” Lundgaard said.
“We have three experienced drivers so we can do it.”
On another positive note, Lundgaard still maintains the lead in the Rookie of the Year standings, sitting seventeenth in the point standings with 42 points.
DAVID MALUKAS – DALE COYNE RACING WITH HMD MOTORSPORTS
QUALIFYING: EIGHTEENTH – RACE: TWENTY-FIRST (-3)
Malukas’ race started out very strong, making his way to eleventh by his first pit stop on lap 29, but unfortunately things went downhill from there quickly for the young American.
When rejoining the field after that first stop, he crossed the pit exit line too soon, forcing him to the back of the field, but still on the lead lap. Thirty laps later, Malukas was forced to return to the pits to fix and issue with his safety belts. Once those were re-tightened, he found himself two laps down.
His race came to an end with nine laps to go, crashing in turn eight when trying to avoid Jimmie Johnson wrecking. Coming away blistered and bruised, Malukas hoped for better, but is staying positive looking ahead.
I truly love the track here in Long Beach and wish things could have gone better but we had no luck this weekend,” he said.
“We had a really good test at Barber in October at my first test with the team so hopefully things can turn around for us at that race in a few weeks.”
While Malukas has run well when on the track this season, small mistakes and crashes have produced poor results. We saw at the Xpel 375 that if the Chicago native can have a clean race, he will produce a strong finish. If the Dale Coyne Racing team can fix those mistakes, Malukas’ talent will likely be able to shine like they did at Texas.
CALLUM ILOTT – JUNCOS HOLLINGER RACING
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-FIRST – RACE: TWENTY-FOURTH (-3)
Ilott was the only rookie with Long Beach experience coming into the weekend, racing in the 2021 season finale as a part of Juncos Hollinger Racing‘s ramp-up trio of races leading into this season. For the second year in a row however, the Brit wouldn’t see the checked flag.
On lap 55, Ilott made contact with the wall in turn eight, and after coming into the pits and having the damage assessed, the team retired the car. Afterwards, Ilott lamented what he described as a “weird” race at Long Beach.
“…there was so much grip on the track and the rubber was building up massively. It was a real shame to finish like that,” he said.
“We didn’t have a massive amount of pace which is something we need to work on, the different feelings with the tires from reds to blacks. We have a lot to look at after this weekend, some pros and some cons.”
“Overall, Long Beach was a challenge, but we will analyze and look to improve for the next one.”
Despite Ilott’s more critical analysis, team co-owners Ricardo Juncos and Brad Hollinger focused on the positive growth of the team since their last visit to the streets of California.
“From where we were at Long Beach in 2021, to where we are now, shows we have made a lot of positive movements in just six months,” Hollinger said.
“We have grown a lot as a team, and we were thrilled to have so many there at Long Beach to support us. This wasn’t the result we wanted, but that is a part of growth, and we will continue to move forward.”
DEVLIN DEFRANCESCO – ANDRETTI STEINBRENNER AUTOSPORT
QUALIFYING: TWENTY-THIRD – RACE: TWENTY-FIFTH (-2)
DeFrancesco’s weekend didn’t get off to a great start, when it was announced that he would serve a six-position grid penalty in qualifying for the three incidents he was involved in during the Xpel 375.
After qualifying seventeenth he started twenty-third, his race was cut short after making contact with the wall in turn nine. The contact clearly broke the balance of the car, and after a spin in the hairpin final corner, DeFrancesco made his way to pit road and his day was over.
“I just locked up the front tires and, unfortunately, I smacked the wall and ended our race early,” DeFrancesco said of the incident.
“The car was good. I was really pushing. I just want to say sorry to the crew. This is a rough day for everybody.”
To end on a positive note for the Canadian, he was scored as the leader on lap 32, achieving his first career led lap in the IndyCar Series.