Catching Up With Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood, Part Two
 November 21, 2018| 
  • Series News
Kirkwood Askew 2

Oliver Askew and Kyle Kirkwood grew up together in Florida, competing with and against each other, and were named to the Team USA Scholarship squad competing in England in the summer of 2016. The duo achieved unparalleled success as they began to climb the open wheel racing ranks.

Kirkwood and Askew had achieved success in England, with Kirkwood earning a heat race win at Silverstone, and Askew scoring two podiums at Brands Hatch, two poles and two wins at Silverstone, and a second-place finish in the Walter Hayes Trophy finale. The Team USA nod also earned them a shot to begin the road toward their ultimate dream: the Verizon IndyCar Series.

The duo headed to the inaugural Mazda Road to Indy Shootout, which brought together 19 of the world’s junior formula series champions to compete for a $200,000 prize and entry into the 2017 USF2000 series, which Askew won handily. “It was pretty clear after the first day that it would be Oliver,” said Kirkwood. “He led all the sessions on the first day, and everyone loved him. I was in the top three, though, I think.” “I won the race and I think that sealed it,” said Askew, who signed with Cape Motorsports in USF2000, while Kirkwood signed with the Cape brothers in the F4 Americas series.

“It wasn’t like our paths veered away from each other,” said Kirkwood. “I felt there was unfinished business for me in F4 (having finished third in the series in 2016 with Primus Racing), but we were still close, and basically on the same team. We traveled back and forth from Jupiter to the shop on St. Pete together, for seat fittings and stuff. It didn’t feel any different from our karting days.”

Askew and Kirkwood continued to compare notes as their seasons progressed, helping each other to progress but this time without the added stress of competing for the same championship. Askew went on to capture the USF2000 championship with seven wins, eight pole positions and 11 podium finishes in 14 races (including five straight victories early in the season) while Kirkwood scored the F4 title with nine wins (including six straight), eight poles and podiums in 10 of 15 races. For Kirkwood, a USF2000 season with Cape was the logical next step – with Askew’s numbers to shoot at. And like all USF2000 rookies, step one was his first street race, the season opener in Cape Motorsports’ hometown.

“St. Pete is the perfect first street race,” said Askew, “because it’s sort of a hybrid. It’s a road course mixed with a street course. There’s a little bit more room at St. Pete than, say, Toronto.”

With Askew moving up to Cape’s Pro Mazda squad, the duo found themselves on the same race team for the first time since their Ocala Grand Prix days. But their 2018 experiences were vastly different – Askew struggled for pace at times, while Kirkwood, with Askew’s race win and pole numbers as a goal, decimated the USF2000 field, tying J.R. Hildebrand’s race win record (12) with 10 straight victories (for good measure, he then joined Abel Motorsports to take the inaugural F3 Americas title, white washing the field with 15 wins in 17 races.)

“In USF2000, people would remind me about Oliver’s wins every weekend,” said Kirkwood. “Over and over again. But with the Capes, I was confident the car would be good every time. Oliver was put in more of a tense situation, having to learn a car that was new to the series, but he learned it all for me. We had a good baseline each weekend and then improved on it, but we were never lost.” “Good for you, I had that a lot last year!” said Askew. “Test dummy! We were on pace most of the time, but we had our lost moments. I remember at Iowa, we were sixth in practice, but then put it on pole and won the race. At Watkins Glen, we were a second off in practice, and again took the pole. I just had to trust the guys to put it all together when it counted. And it was another year like that this year.”

Askew worked to find speed with the Tatuus PM-18, which shares a chassis with the USF-17 with an upgraded aero package, bigger Cooper Tires and more horsepower. He earned three pole positions but only three podiums in the first 13 races but salvaged his season with a third-place finish and a victory at Portland that placed him in third position in the final championship standings.

“It was a tough year,” said Askew. “But it helped to have Kyle there, because things are super serious under the Cape tent, but with Kyle, no matter what, everything’s funny. In some cases, it was hard to watch Kyle having all that success while we were struggling, but he wasn’t in a position to help our program that much. Their sessions were usually before ours, so we could look at their setup in the conditions, but other than that it was up to Dominic and I to figure it out, and unfortunately, we didn’t always manage that.”

As both drivers prepare for the 2019 season, both look to take the next step up the Road to Indy ladder. Kirkwood, of course, earned the final Mazda scholarship into Pro Mazda next season, while Askew hopes to find budget for a season in the final rung on the ladder, the Indy Lights Presented by Cooper Tires. A successful Chris Griffis Memorial Test with 2018 champions Andretti Autosport saw Askew set the quickest time in the fourth of six test sessions, and the second-quick time overall (beyond Andretti veteran Ryan Norman). But while the test showed Askew that he has what it takes to succeed in the bigger, faster car, it also showed him what a foundation he carries from his time with the Cape team.

“After my weekend with Andretti, I realized how professional they really are, and how well they prepared me for what might lie ahead,” said Askew. “Their way of thinking is very current, so I didn’t feel as though I had that much more to learn to be able to drive for a bigger team. Their way of setting up a car, their professionalism, how they go about a weekend, is top notch. It’s much smaller, but they get the job accomplished.

“That’s my main focus right now,” Askew continued. “Focusing on my progression through the Road to Indy and on my way to IndyCar.”

With Cape Motorsports selling their Pro Mazda cars to Abel Motorsports, the next move is up in the air for Kirkwood as well. “There are a lot of “ifs” right now. There is still money that I have to find, despite the scholarship. But I’m not worried about it. In the past three years, my program has come together literally at the last moment. (“Well, that’s not ideal,” interjected Askew.) It’s not ideal, but it comes together in the end and super last-minute.”

Both have plenty of plans for the offseason: working on rides for the series test at Homestead next month while making phone calls and perfecting marketing presentations. Kirkwood won the LMP3 prototype race at the recent IMSA (International Motor Sports Association) event at Sebring, alongside IMSA GT3 standout Roman de Angelis – beating, among others, former IndyCar drivers Bruno Junquiera and Katherine Legge, Porsche GT3 Canada champion Zacharie Robichon and USF2000 race director Jan Heylen, for an astounding 28 victories in 2018 – and will test the Pro Mazda car with Abel Motorsports (the team with whom he recently earned the F3 Americas championship – his third championship in the last year.) Askew will be judging the Road to Indy Shootout, and both are instructors at the Lucas Oil School of Racing. The Askew family will then head to mom Pernilla Askew’s home country of Sweden for the holidays, while Kirkwood plans “plenty of waves crashing over my head.”

As for the future, Askew and Kirkwood can’t help but think about the possibilities that lie ahead – picture the pair lining up next to each other in the 104th Indianapolis 500.

"That's always a dream of ours," said Kirkwood. "It's crazy to think how possible it is becoming. Just a few years ago, we were star struck by IndyCar drivers and now we're both sitting high up as potential candidates for IndyCar. I don't think either one of us would be as far in our career as we are now without each other. Ever since we were very young we would always push each other to be better, and that's still true to this day." 

“For us to make it to IndyCar together would just cap off a crazy career of competing alongside each other” said Askew. “After everything we’ve been through, it wouldn’t surprise me if we start the Indy 500 next to each other one day. A lot has to fall in place for that to happen and I think we’re solely focused on our own vastly different programs at this point. But I think we share a similar goal, and we’ll always push each other to new limits no matter where we end up.”

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