The NTT IndyCar Series silly season dominoes are falling. The month of June began with Andretti Autosport announcing Kyle Kirkwood will drive the #27 Honda in 2023, which officially made Alexander Rossi a free agent for a day until the worst-kept secret was formally verified when Arrow McLaren SP revealed he would join its roster.
Despite winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 as a rookie and being a perennial title contender through his first four seasons with Andretti, Rossi has struggled since 2020 with a plague of misfortunes and bad luck. After notching race wins including the 500 from 2016 to 2019, he only has a single podium since 2021 while his fifth in last Sunday’s 500 is his best finish of 2022. These difficulties come in stark contrast to his racing activities outside of IndyCar, which includes winning the 2021 Rolex 24 Hours of Daytona overall and Class 7 in the Baja 1000.
Owing to these challenges, Rossi hopes a change of scenery by joining an organisation like McLaren will turn his luck around. 2022 was already the final year of his contract with Andretti, and he currently sits eleventh in points.
“First, I want to thank everyone at Andretti Autosport for an incredible seven years,” began Rossi. “It has been a great ride with an awesome team, and it has been an honor to race for the Andretti name and for Michael for so long. The time has come for a new challenge, with a team that is growing in the sport. I look forward to contributing to the development of Arrow McLaren SP and helping them reach the top. I see the commitment this team has to each other and to me, and I’m looking forward to getting started. It’s time for me to race for another one of motorsport’s biggest names: McLaren.”
Andretti owner Michael Andretti described Rossi as “a great contender for us, and we’ve enjoyed having him as part of the team for seven seasons. He’s won races and become a leader in the team, but all careers and all teams evolve, and we’ve mutually decided it’s time for each of us to move on. I have no doubt he’ll have a continued, successful IndyCar career and we wish him the best. In the meantime, we are all working hard to finish the 2022 season strong.”
Rossi’s departure had long been speculated prior to June, though he and the involved parties understandably avoided the question when broached.
“As we look forward to 2023, we are looking for a driver that will be a great fit and bring experience to the team,” said Arrow McLaren SP president Taylor Kiel. “Alex is a driver who knows what it takes to succeed in this sport and will strengthen our talented driver line-up. He shares the same winning mindset that I see every day across Arrow McLaren SP and I think we will find a lot of success together in the years to come.”
A number was not immediately revealed, though Rossi is expected to take over a third car. The team already fields two full-time Chevrolets for Pato O’Ward and Felix Rosenqvist, the former of whom having recently signed a multi-year deal to remain with McLaren while the latter enters his contract year in 2023. While not an extensive schedule, McLaren opened another car for Juan Pablo Montoya to run the Month of May events, and he finished eleventh in the Indianapolis 500.
McLaren Racing CEO Zak Brown added, “Alex is a proven race winner and an Indianapolis 500 champion, who shares our desire to win. It is essential that we put the right talent in place, both inside and outside the car, so we can consistently compete for championships and race wins as a team. He is someone we have had our eye on for some time and we’re excited to see what he’ll do as a part of Arrow McLaren SP.”
After winning the 2021 Indy Lights championship with Andretti, Kirkwood was regarded as a top IndyCar prospect among teams searching for 2022 drivers. However, with Andretti’s lineup already filled, he instead moved to A.J. Foyt Enterprises and the #14 Chevrolet.
Five races into his maiden IndyCar campaign, Kirkwood sits twenty-first in points with a best finish of tenth at Long Beach. Among those running for Rookie of the Year honours, he is the third highest in the standings behind Christian Lundgaard (seventeenth) and David Malukas (nineteenth).
Rossi’s sponsor AutoNation will remain with Andretti and appear on Kirkwood’s #27. It is unknown if Rossi’s primary backer NAPA Auto Parts will return or follow him to McLaren.
“I couldn’t be more excited to return to Andretti Autosport next year and represent AutoNation and Honda,” Kirkwood stated. “Andretti Autosport is a place I’ve called home for years past and I have truly felt like family. I have a ton of loyalty to the team, and it means a lot to have Michael and the Andretti team offer me this opportunity. AutoNation has been doing great work in raising awareness and funding for cancer research. I’m honored to Drive Pink next season.
“I have worked extremely hard this season and will continue to work harder every day for the A.J. Foyt team. I want to thank the entire team at A.J. Foyt Racing for giving me the opportunity to compete in the NTT IndyCar Series. The group on the #14 car have been incredible and I am beyond grateful to them for all the amazing experiences we have been able to share together so far this season.”
“We really enjoyed having Kyle as part of our Indy Lights team and he’s off to a strong start in IndyCar,” Andretti commented. “I think he’ll bring a fresh perspective and will be competitive. We are looking forward to helping him continue his career growth.”