Rain doesn’t stop Kirkwood’s domination

Despite mixed weather conditions, Kyle Kirkwood pulls off a two-win day at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
Despite mixed weather conditions, Kyle Kirkwood pulls off a two-win day at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course

Through rain and shine, Kyle Kirkwood of Jupiter, Florida, delivered another dominating performance Friday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, winning both Amethyst Beverage F3 Americas Championship Powered by Honda rounds. The pair of victories marked the fifth consecutive win for the reigning F4 U.S. champion.

In his first F3 Americas event, Benjamin Pedersen of Copenhagen, Denmark, claimed second in both rounds joined by Global Racing Group teammate Baltazar Leguizamon of Buenos Aires, Argentina, in third.

“We have an incredible car right now," said Kirkwood. “It seems that our team Abel Motorsports has progressed much faster than anyone else on the grid. Nothing we’ve done to the car has made it worse. We’ve just been picking at the car, making it better, step by step. Now with the second weekend we’re able to pull gaps like we did in this round. It’s a testimony to how quickly we were able to find a set up. This team has done an amazing job for me and I can’t thank them enough."

Storm clouds rolled in over the 2.258-mile road course as the group of F3 Americas cars took the track outfitted in Pirelli P Zero slicks. The winds picked up, but the rain held off as the single-seater, single-chassis championship field pulled up to the starting grid for the F1-style standing start. Kirkwood started on pole, his fourth of the season. Pedersen shared front row followed by Leguizamon and John Paul Southern Jr. of Westlake, Ohio, in Row 2. Kirkwood’s No 8 Abel Motorsports’ machine launched off the line, immediately pulling a gap. Southern cut to the inside of Leguizamon to take P3, challenging Pedersen two-wide into Turn 1. Pedersen won the battle, putting distance between him and the Southern Motorsports driver.

“The starting temperature was quite a bit cooler in the second round today than the first. I experienced more wheel spin on the start because I didn’t get the tires up to temperature quick enough on the reconnaissance lap. Our launch wasn’t as good as the first round, or as good as Kyle’s, but it was better than the drivers behind me so we were able to keep our P2 spot," Pedersen said.

On the prowl, Leguizamon caught Southern. Lap after lap, Leguizamon tried to take back his starting position, but Southern kept calm and managed his racing line, laying down solid defensive moves. Dicing back and forth, each competitor making the other faster, Southern clocked the second fastest lap of the session. The quicker Leguizamon was, the faster Southern went until he managed to put some distance between his No. 61 Pittsburgh International Race Complex car and the young Argentinian.

Just past the mid-point of the 35-minute session, rain coated a portion of the north end of the track. Kirkwood and Pedersen hit the wet surface first, slowing down for precaution.

“The rain on slick tires was crazy. The water was standing in the brake zones and it was really hard to keep the cars on track," Pedersen explained.

Still gaining speed, Southern hit the uneven track and dipped two wheels off. As Southern recovered, Leguizamon gained ground to close the gap, trying to capture that last podium position.

The rain finally hit, pouring down over the entire track, creating slippery conditions and visibility issues. Southern still pushing on his slicks went high center off track, missing the checkered after an exhausting race-long battle.

“Baltazar and I had good consistent pace," Southern said. “It was tough to fend him off but we put some pretty good defensive moves on him so he couldn’t get around. There was a lot of respectful racing out there. Balta’s a great driver. Hats off to him for making the podium."

Kirkwood took the checkered more than 41 seconds ahead of second-place Pedersen with Leguizamon claiming the final podium step.

“It was a tricky race for me. It was so difficult to keep the car on track when it rained," Leguizamon said. “I didn’t have the best start. We started to push hard every time, so did John Paul. He was on new tires, I was still on my qualifying tires. I was losing so much speed in the fast speed corners with a lot of oversteer. We just have to keep working with the team to improve."

In Round 4 at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Kirkwood paced the field, opening up a huge lead at the beginning of the race. Pedersen’s times from qualifying from Thursday gridded him in the second row, but he quickly jumped into second off the line after Leguizamon experienced tire spin off the start. On Lap 15, Southern, who had mechanical issues that carried over from the inaugural rounds, shunted into the gravel, causing the first full course yellow ever in F3 Americas. The Honda Civic Type R safety car emerged to group up the cars. Kirkwood got another great start to close out the race with a marginal lead. Pedersen took second in his maiden F3 Americas race and Leguizamon settled for third.

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