A year of frequently fantastic on-track action ended with 10 different winners from 19 races, a worthy champion, a heart-warming result in the Indy 500 and?yes, some troubling incidents, too ” mainly, but not exclusively, off-track.
The fact that the ?500? winner finished outside the top 10 in the championship compelled us to extend our more in-depth assessment, and 11 seemed such a weird number?so we went for the top 12 finishers in the 2013 IZOD IndyCar Series. In the coming days, Marshall Pruett will do a mop-up of the almost-made-its, which include winners such as Takuma Sato and Mike Conway, as well as drivers who grabbed runner-up places, such as Graham Rahal, James Jakes, Simona de Silvestro and Josef Newgarden. For now though, Robin Miller, David Malsher and Marshall Pruett are counting down the dirty dozen. Today, it’s?
9th ” CHARLIE KIMBALL
Chip Ganassi Racing Dallara-Honda
Best finish ” 1st, Mid-Ohio
Best qualifying ” 5th, Barber, Mid-Ohio, Fontana
Robin Miller writes
Fair or not, in motorsports a driver usually gets pegged with an instant critique: fast, good, reckless, clueless, smart, average or over their head. The first year and a half of his IndyCar career, Charlie Kimball seemed to be somewhere between run-of-the-mill and field-filler. He was a nice kid with a good story about neutralizing Type 1 diabetes and they didn’t come any more likeable. In the racecar he wasn’t a hazard, nor was he a threat to run up front ” just part of the scenery.
But, when he passed two cars in ONE CORNER at Toronto on his way to second place in July 2012, it made you pause for a minute and wonder if maybe he packed more punch than originally thought. And in 2013 he answered that question. Not only did Kimball score his initial victory at Mid-Ohio, he went from an afterthought to a threat and that’s a long drive in this series. That win at Mid-Ohio was good strategy combined with a flat-out sprint and he led 46 laps to hold off Simon Pagenaud.
Yet the most impressive thing about the 28-year-old Californian was his improved pace and racecraft. Three times he qualified in the Fast 6 and three other times it was top 10 as he and engineer Brad Goldberg clicked. A fourth at Barber, ninth at Indy, seventh at Detroit, second at Pocono and sixth at Toronto and Baltimore elevated Chip Ganassi’s B team to even footing with the Target twosome at many tracks.
But nothing illustrated Kimball’s progress like the season finale at Fontana. He qualified fourth, ran with the big dogs all night (led 22 laps) and blew up while among the front runners late in the race. He also banged wheels a couple times with Helio Castroneves while battling for the top spot and never backed down in an effort to help his teammate secure the championship.
?It was a good year and I was proud of my team,? said Kimball after rushing to congratulate Scott Dixon. ?I think we opened some eyes this season and I can’t wait for 2014.?
Novo Nordisk’s diabetes medicine makes it possible for Charlie to compete and its sponsorship made it possible for Charlie to get into IndyCar. But in 2013 it went from a feel good story to a real good story.
David Malsher writes?
There are three ways to approach your early seasons at the top level. 1) Drive over the limit, not care about crash damage, and occasionally keep it together long enough that you get a couple of spectacular results, and (hopefully) somewhere in that maelstrom, learn where the limit is. 2) Drive cautiously, gradually log experience, but keep pushing harder and harder until you find the limit. 3) Have enough experience of powerful machinery that you develop that instinctive feel for where the limit is, so that mistakes are few while driving at the limit.
Well, Charlie Kimball fell into the second category on arrival in IndyCar, yet is gradually moving into the third, and it’s a pleasure to watch: he’s not so much climbing the learning curve as running up it.
No one ” least of all the man himself ” would claim that he’s on the level of his illustrious teammates, Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti, who combined have seven IndyCar championships and 64 race wins. But then they have 29 seasons between them, too, whereas Kimball has just completed his third. And guess what: in the 18 grids decided by qualifying (the second Houston lineup was based on championship position) this season, Charlie beat one of his Target Ganassi stablemates in more than half. In Fontana, the Novo Nordisk machine outqualified both Dixon and Franchitti’s sub, Alex Tagliani, and that night CK looked like the only guy able to match the pace of winner Will Power and early leader Ryan Hunter-Reay over the course of a full stint.
Let’s also praise Charlie’s behavior after the late-race engine failure. No tantrums, no mud-slinging: just some heartfelt ?thank yous? to his crew for giving him such a good car. It’s not hard to see how this low-maintenance guy fits in so well with the team.
Back in round two, at Barber Motorsports Park, there had been a breakthrough for Kimball, when he reached the Firestone Fast Six for the first time and went on to finish fourth, and was very proud of passing Power. However, Ganassi’s reversion to 2012 shock and damper setups had not been the whole answer to curing its off-season wander down a developmental dead- end and so it wasn’t until Toronto, after Ganassi’s mid-season test, that we saw again what Kimball could do on a street course. Dixon dominated, Franchitti starred, but Kimball also looked rejuvenated in the Canadian double-header, making some daring moves against the competition, confident in the car and in himself.
And then, of course, he then went and won Mid-Ohio. Race engineer Brad Goldberg (with Charlie, RIGHT) out-thought the competition, yes, in switching to a three-stop strategy. But Kimball was fast enough to be in the top six already, racy enough to take advantage of the revised tactics, and assertive enough to pull that bold pass on Simon Pagenaud.
Wonder what he can do in 2014, at this rate of progress?
Marshall Pruett writes?
Charlie Kimball: had nine finishes outside the top 10 in 2013.
Charlie Kimball: had 10 finishes inside the top 10.
Charlie Kimball: stood on the podium twice and won his first IndyCar race.
Charlie Kimball: finished ninth in the championship, directly behind three-time race winner James Hinchcliffe, and 42 points behind 2012 series champion Ryan Hunter-Reay in seventh.
Charlie Kimball: made the kind of pass on Simon Pagenaud to take the lead and eventual win at Mid-Ohio that very few people pull off on the highly rated Frenchman.
Charlie Kimball: finally developed the kind of chemistry with his engineer Brad Goldberg ” one of the kinder souls in the paddock ” that gets the job done.
Charlie Kimball: made significant inroads on halting the disappearing act that tainted his rookie and sophomore seasons.
Charlie Kimball: dialed down the personality that made him an outsider in some circles and an enfant terrible in others to become a more relaxed, assured individual.
Charlie Kimball: became more than ?the driver with diabetes? in the same way Simona de Silvestro became more than ?the girl racing among the boys.?
Charlie Kimball: proved he has the stones to hang with the established stars of the sport.
Charlie Kimball: rocked in 2013.
Charlie Kimball: needs to rock harder in 2014.
Charlie Kimball: can’t count on some of the heavyweights who finished behind him in the standings to trail him two years in a row.
Charlie Kimball: needs to significantly cut down his five finishes of 17th or worse in order to improve his place in the championship.
Charlie Kimball: should spend the off-season listening and learning from teammate Scott Dixon on how to live with a loose racing car if he wants to improve his satisfactory-but-rarely-threatening street course finishes.
Charlie Kimball: has shown a knack for the big ovals, and looked like an animal on his way to a possible win at Fontana.
Charlie Kimball: must carry over that Fontana form and mindset into next season.