The Andretti quartet scored just two victories last year and was arguably supplanted in the series' ‘big three' by McLaren, to whom its most recent race winner has defected.
However, in opening practice for Race 1 of the 2023 IndyCar season at St Petersburg, it made two of the top four positions on the timesheet, with Colton Herta only 0.0330s slower than pace-setter Scott Dixon.
Kirkwood, who has returned to Andretti after winning the Indy NXT crown in 2021 and then spending his rookie IndyCar season at AJ Foyt Racing, was fourth-quickest in a top five covered by less than a tenth of a second.
He said post-session, “I feel like Andretti has made definitely steps in the right direction, but everyone makes steps in the right direction, but maybe us more than others.
“I also feel like Andretti's performance last year didn't show what their actual capability has been. I feel like we're showing it now.
“I feel like the team has melded very well. All the drivers work together well, all the engineers work together well.
“We all have the same goal, and that's winning. All of us now are in a place that we want to help each other win and all succeed together. That's the ultimate mindset.”
Kirkwood finished second-last of the drivers who competed full-time in 2022, ahead of only then-team-mate Dalton Kellett.
On being back at the pointy end as soon as he returned to Andretti, the 24-year-old remarked, “I think it's definitely important.
“From the outside looking in, it's not as important for me or the team, but I guess for the persona around the team and myself based on my last year of performance being so up and down, to start up the year on a high and kind of continue that trait.
“I think the expectation will continue to be that from the outside, and people will remember what I was in the junior formulas.”
Practice 2 starts on Saturday at 10:00 ET/Sunday at 02:00 AEDT and then Qualifying from 14:15 ET/06:15 AEDT, with both of those sessions live and ad-free on Stan Sport.