Fresh off a championship performance in 2017 which saw him win 3 races, secure 11 top-fives and finish each race in the Indy Lights gauntlet, Kyle Kaiser deserves his shot. After six years of competition in the Mazda Road to Indy, he will get just that.
Next season Kaiser will make his debut in the Verizon IndyCar series using his Indy Lights scholarship to secure a four-race package that includes entry to the 102nd Indianapolis 500 on May 27. Not to be ignored, he continues a rise through North American open-wheel motorsports with Juncos Racing, the team he has spent the last half decade with and delivered the organization’s fourth Road to Indy title this past September. Reaching the top of the ladder with the group who’s nurtured his career is not lost on the young driver.
“The opportunity to move up with Juncos Racing to the Verizon IndyCar Series is so special,” gleamed Kaiser. “To be able to stay with the same team for five years says a lot about the program they have put together and I’m looking forward to continuing to build upon it.”
Still a mere 21 years old, the Santa Clara, California native carries composure and maturity that few drivers entering the series at his age possess. While he values the championship earned in 2017 with Juncos’ Indy Lights outfit, Kaiser is aware that the development must continue for him as a driver if he plans on making waves in IndyCar.
“I don’t know how much momentum (winning Indy Lights) will translate into a completely new car, but I feel I am confident in my driving and earned a spot to be competing at this level.” That quiet confidence and the maturity touched on earlier is what elevated Kaiser from sixth- and third-place points finishes in the last two Indy Light’s campaigns to a title in his third attempt.
When evaluating young drivers on the minor league circuit, it is necessary to see year-to-year development. While the light comes on at different times and in unique ways for each competitor, that steady line of progress is desired for each case. Ironically, for the man who idolizes Ayrton Senna as his racing hero, Kaiser found the formula to improved results in increased patience on the track.
“The biggest change for me was more experience and understanding how to be patient over the course of a race and know when to take certain risks,” he offered. “My first year I was constantly taking risks at the wrong time and constantly found myself on the negative end of an outcome. My second year I was more consistent, but maybe too conservative. This last season I found a good balance of being aggressive, but still remaining patient and finishing races.”
While the words seem simple enough, they are guidelines that many emerging drivers can live by as they attempt to hone their craft and climb the ladder in open-wheel racing. Take that from a driver that already has six seasons of professional racing experience under his belt before reaching a 22nd birthday.
When asked about the chance to drive IndyCar’s hot new universal aero kit, Kaiser relishes the opportunity – albeit with a dose of humility. He speaks to the challenges of an IndyCar promotion, such as driving a car with more power and downforce, multiple tire compounds, longer races and even having to make pit stops, something that is not commonplace in the Mazda Road to Indy.
“I will be preparing the best I can this offseason for getting into an IndyCar, but nothing replaces real life experience. My goal is to minimize mistakes and learn as much as I can during my races for 2018.”
Currently Kaiser is on the docket for each race during the Month of May at Indianapolis – the IndyCar Grand Prix on May 12 and the Indianapolis 500 on May 27 – as well as two more contests yet to be determined. When asked how he will stay busy for the rest of the calendar year, the Californian was upbeat in a search for additional IndyCar appearances.
“As of now we are only doing four but I would like to do as many as we can, so we will be working hard to add to that. Right now my time is spent towards finding partners or sponsors who can add to our program for 2018 in the Verizon IndyCar Series.”
Let this be noted as well: the Mazda Road to Indy Series is working! While its 2011 graduate Josef Newgarden just won the IndyCar crown in Sonoma, the “Ladder” has also produced opportunities for current up-and-comers such as Ed Jones and Spencer Pigot. Don’t forget stars like Scott Dixon, Tony Kanaan and Dan Wheldon from some of the early years as well. For Kaiser, it has been the most valuable asset to his career.
“I’m immensely grateful to Dan Andersen and Mazda for supporting the Road to Indy, which is allowing me to make my dream a reality.”
While many dream of racing in the Indianapolis 500, only few get the opportunity. On May 27 when Kyle Kaiser sees the green flag and barrels down towards turn one at the Speedway, the moment will never feel more real.