Dalton Kellett wraps up his third season with AJ Foyt Racing while Kyle Kirkwood completes his rookie season this weekend at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca. Following their reflection on the 2022 season, we asked them a few questions …
DALTON KELLETT – No. 4 K-LINE INSULATORS USA CHEVROLET
On Laguna Seca: “It’s hard to believe the end of the season is already here, time flies! It feels like we just wrapped up the Month of May. Laguna Seca is probably the best place for a season finale. I think the track embodies everything a permanent road course should be: great flow, technical, mix of high and low speed corners, and unique aspects. The unique things about this track are the low grip and the massive elevation changes. Part of the low track grip is sand from the runoffs blowing onto the surface. The other factor is the age of the track surface; it hasn’t been repaved in a long time so it’s very polished. Because of this, tire degradation is really high at Laguna Seca. Managing the grip and wear of the tires over the stint is the key to good average pace over the long run. That was something we didn’t do well last year, so planning on learning from that mistake. We’ve got one more race in this season and everyone on the No. 4 K-Line team will be pushing hard for a strong finish!”
Kellett navigates the infamous “Corkscrew” complex of turns at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca last year.
Former Indy car driver Ryan Briscoe was your driver coach this season. How does he help you over the course of a race weekend?
DK: “Having Ryan onboard has been a great help; I’ve really appreciated and benefited from the input
and experience he brings to the table. During the weekend, the overall goal is for him to look at data/video/spotting on-track and then recommend changes and provide guidance on technique. So, we will look at the onboard video, data overlays, and Dartfish compares (a video software program that teams use to compare drivers) after sessions and he will give me feedback on my driving and help me work out what key areas I need to focus on to go faster. He also spots during the race, which can be invaluable when there’s lots of action going on around you. I think having someone with driving experience is really helpful in that role, they know what info you are looking for. With Ryan’s IndyCar experience, he’s also a great resource for some input on setup changes and direction.”
What (or where) do you see the biggest improvements you’ve made this season?
DK: “Qualifying was a big focus going into the year and I think that’s somewhere I’ve made some good improvements. Street circuits especially seem to have gone well for us this year. I attribute that to focusing a bit more on extracting the most out of the fresh Reds while also being more disciplined to not overdrive. I think the overall pace has been much closer to where it needs to be in races and that’s been a good gain from 2021 and definitely from 2020.”
What do you take the most pride in this year?
DK: “Given that the race results haven’t, in general, been where we would have liked, I would say my most ‘proud’ moment of the year was the combined effort between the IndyCar fanbase, myself, K-Line, and AJ Foyt Racing to raise and donate funds to support the Uvalde (Texas) families. I think that moment transcends what we’re trying to do on-track and stands out too because we all came together to help people in need.”
If you had a magical “do-over” for one race this year, what/where would it be?
DK: “I think we lost some wind from our sails, after a strong start at St. Pete, with the DNF at Long Beach. That one was on me and I think finishing that weekend well would have had a good effect on our early-season trajectory.”
Your TikTok videos have been well-received. How did you decide to do them?
DK: “The TikTok channel has had a great reception, certainly more than I expected. Thanks to all the fans who have been part of that. My initial idea was a weekly Monday video (creatively dubbed “Indy Mondays”) where I would highlight some interesting part of the car or IndyCar racing. The reception to those videos was strong and the tech series spun out of that. I then adjusted, to focus on a few things: 1) race car science and theory 2) interesting technical highlights 3) onboard video / race breakdowns. I wish I had more time to post regularly, it’s a good platform once you find a niche.”
You’ve used your platform to speak out on issues you care about. Why have you taken that risk when most (if not all) of your fellow competitors have not?
DK: “I decided to take that risk because I felt that the personal impact of not speaking out (i.e. how I would feel about myself, in retrospect, if I didn’t use my platform for something I believed in) outweighed the objective risk. But, I also felt the risk was quite low: I decided to engage with these topics in what I feel was a respectful and rational way and, frankly, I don’t need or want to be associated with people or groups who would object to that kind of rational and respectful debate. I also felt that portraying myself honestly to the fans, even if some may disagree with a stance on a particular issue, was a better service to the IndyCar community than trying to be someone I’m not.”
This past week, you did a road trip from Portland to Monterey with your fiancée Nicole Westra—what did you discover along the way?
DK: “We had a great trip from Portland to Laguna! We split the drive over a couple nights, stopping in Redding and Calistoga. On the first day, we stopped by the Timberline Lodge on Mt. Hood for a few photos and then drove down to Crater Lake. Both are amazing sights and really worth the trip, the water in Crater Lake is such a mesmerizing blue. The next day we spent in wine country, we went to a couple vineyards and had a nice dinner. Nicole and I got engaged in Napa last September, so it’s a place that is very special to us. Both the wineries we visited had animals on-site, the first had horse stables and the second had a pet pig walking around, that was a highlight. On Wednesday, we drove down the coast along Highway 1 on the way to Laguna Seca. Always a great drive!”
Dalton and his fiancée Nicole Westra enjoyed their road trip from Portland to Monterey this week.
Kellett Fast Facts: Age 29…Born in Toronto, Canada and lives in Indianapolis…Became engaged to Nicole Westra and they plan to wed on New Year’s Eve…Graduated from Queens University with a degree in Engineering Physics in 2015…Brand spokesman for Ten80 Education’s National STEM League…Enjoys rock climbing, backcountry skiing, camping, playing guitar, cooking and golf. For the technically curious, Kellett posts TikTok videos (@dalton_kellett) about the race car labeled “Indy Mondays” with subjects ranging from the steering wheel to the weight jacker to cold tires.
KYLE KIRKWOOD – No. 14 SEXTON PROPERTIES CHEVROLET
On Laguna Seca: “Although I don’t necessarily rank Laguna near the top of my list of favorite tracks, it was actually the track I performed by far the best at last year and the only track I perfectly swept. Laguna has tons of character and is definitely a very flowy track, which I tend to be best at tracks with a rhythm type of flow. Although it’s a very fun track to drive, it doesn’t promote much passing at all under similar conditions between competitors. So, that means qualifying, strategy and pit stops are going to be the primary factors at this event.”
Rookie years are all about learning, what did you learn this season?
KK: “I think I could write a novel on what I learned, there is so much. The most crucial thing I learned was strategies. It’s something that’s all new to me coming from sprint (length) racing.”
Kirkwood had his best street course finish at Long Beach where he finished 10th.
What surprised you the most about (a) driving an Indy car over the course of a race weekend and (b) competing at this level?
KK: “Quite honestly nothing surprised me too much, never was I caught off guard from lack of experience. If anything, I was surprised how similar it is to all other forms of motorsports.”
What were some of the most challenging aspects you faced this year?
KK: “The most challenging aspect of this year was trying to develop the car with little to no experience with the Indy car on certain tracks. I had basically no reference on what a car should feel like on some of these tracks, I just go off of what I’ve known is right. There were plenty of times throughout the season that we were on the back foot due to this and with teams, tracks and drivers ever evolving, it’s really hard to keep up.”
If you could have a magical “do-over” at one race, what would it be?
KK: “I think the expected answer is Nashville but for me that was a great weekend and we were caught out from some other’s mistake. For me it is the Indy 500. I thought we were on for a top-10 finish there and we lost too much in the final stop. With what I know now, I think we would go back and have a much better race as a whole.”
What do you take the most satisfaction from looking back over the season?
KK: “Long Beach was great, it was a bounce back from our incident at Texas and really set the tone for the rest of the year.”
Kirkwood shares a laugh with Jeremy Levenson, team comedian.
You have a very positive attitude which is great in such a demanding sport—is it
something you were born with or did you develop it as a mental tool?
KK: “I’m not sure, I’ve always found things work out better if you’re positive about it. Whether it’s the team or yourself, being negative always hurts and at the end of the day we are racing INDYCAR for our livings, what’s cooler than that?”
What advice would you give to drivers in junior formulas who want to compete at this level?
KK: “No matter what category you’re racing in, it’s relevant. If I had the chance to go back to the start of my car career, I would take notes of absolutely everything because there is stuff that I remember from certain tracks in the start of my career that I bring to INDYCAR. If I wrote every detail down, it would make my life a lot easier to this day and would also create value. Never overlook what you’re doing in any category from Karting to INDYCAR because there’s always massive similarities.”
Kirkwood took the Indy Lights points lead at Laguna Seca last year for Andretti Autosport which is where he heads for 2023.
Kirkwood Fast Facts: Age 23…Born in West Palm Beach and lives in Jupiter, Florida… Only driver to win championships in all three divisions of the Road to Indy ladder system…Began racing karts at age 5…Won the 2018 Cooper Tires USF2000 title (12 wins in 14 races) and won 15 of 17 races to claim the F3 Americas Championship…Won the 2019 Indy Pro 2000 Championship Presented by Cooper Tires with nine victories and five poles in 16 races (RP Motorsports)…Won the 2021 Indy Lights championship with 10 victories and seven poles in 20 races (the 2020 season was canceled due to the pandemic). Enjoys surfing, deep-sea fishing, diving and golf.
Past Performance: Last year at WeatherTech Raceway Laguna Seca, Kellett competed for the first time in an Indy car; he started 27th and finished 23rd. Kirkwood competed there in Indy Lights winning both the pole and the race last year. AJ Foyt Racing’s best finish was eighth with Mike Groff who also posted the team’s best start of 11th (both in 1992).
Last Race: At the Grand Prix of Portland, Kirkwood started 13th and finished 13th for his second-best finish on a permanent road course. Kellett started 25th and finished 22nd.
The Firestone Grand Prix of Monterey will be broadcast live Sunday afternoon at 3 p.m. ET on NBC. Qualifying will be streamed on Peacock Premium Saturday at 5:05 p.m. ET. Practices will also be streamed on Peacock Premium: Friday (5:30 pm ET), Saturday (1:15 p.m. ET) and Sunday (12 noon ET).