IndyCar season review: Charlie Kimball

IndyCar season review: Charlie Kimball

IndyCar

IndyCar season review: Charlie Kimball

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What will you remember the 2015 IndyCar season for? Juan Pablo Montoya’s teflon coating wearing off right at the time he needed it most? The introduction of the aero kits, several years after they were first mooted? Rocky Moran Jr.’s inspiring hour of track time at Long Beach?

To try to make sense of it all, RACER‘s Marshall Pruett, Robin Miller and Mark Glendenning asked each other some searching questions about all of 2015’s regulars, which for the purpose of this review, includes anyone who started a minimum of half the races. Look for new installments every Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

CHARLIE KIMBALL
2015 starts: 16

2015 best finish: 3rd (Indy 500; Sonoma)
2015 championship position: 12th; 371pts

Are we seeing Kimball at his best? Has he reached his full potential?

ROBIN MILLER: Dario Franchitti calls his former teammate ‘Charlie Murphy’, but I prefer the moniker ‘Clark Kent’ because a few times every season he goes into a phone booth and changes into Superman. This past season it was at the Indy 500, when he charged from 14th to first before finishing third. He also scored a podium at Sonoma after starting 14th. So when asked about his potential it’s difficult to answer, because since scoring that first podium at Toronto in 2012, to winning Mid-Ohio in 2013, to storming to the front at Indy last May, ‘ol Charlie keeps surprising most of us.

The 30-year-old Californian sometimes seems too mellow for an IndyCar and then he’ll go out and make a bunch of bodacious passes at Toronto or Alabama or Mid-Ohio that impresses everyone. Or lead Indianapolis for 14 laps. So in that regard he is very much like a box of chocolates in that you never know what you’re getting.

How much was Kimball’s overall rise in competitiveness due to the direct input from Franchitti, and if Franchitti isn’t there next season, would Chuck regress?

MARSHALL PRUETT: The driver known as ‘Charlie Murphy’ by his teammates had his second-best season in IndyCar, but I’d argue 2015 was the Californian’s best year of work inside the cockpit. Franchitti’s influence played a significant part in Charlie’s development, but Dario wasn’t driving the car for him, nor was he responsible for Kimball’s growth as a professional.

It took some time, but Kimball, who can be guarded, let down the walls that led to limited growth through 2014. Frank and honest interactions between Kimball, Franchitti, and race engineer Brad Goldberg in debriefs allowed Charlie to raise his game to greater heights as the season continued. By the end of the year, Kimball was no longer a nice surprise to find in a strong position during practice, qualifying, or the race. Chuck took instructions and turned them into results, including a fine podium at the season finale.

Being open to a coach’s feedback unlocked potential within Kimball that was always there, and with Dario expected to return to his Obi-Wan Franchitti role next year, I expect to see Mr. Murphy take another step forward in his career.

Can Kimball be satisfied with his 2015 performance?

MARK GLENDENNING: I think so. Sure, he’d have a liked a win, but those were harder to come by than ever this year. If he takes the glass-half-full approach, he scored just as many victories in 2015 as Ganassi teamate Tony Kanaan …

There were still a couple of weekends where he seemed to go missing, but there were far more when he was running up amongst the leaders, and looking perfectly comfortable doing so. He certainly picked his moments for his two podiums – both were in the double-points races.

If there was a downside to his year, it’s that his qualifying performances often left him with too much work to do in the races. He only earned himself a top-10 starting position four times, with Mid-Ohio representing his sole appearance in the Fast Six. And being mired in the mid-pack might also have been a factor in his being driven into at places like St Pete (where he was punted by Graham Rahal) and Toronto (where he was rear-ended by Stefano Coletti).

So there’s still room for improvement. But on the whole, there was much from 2015 that Kimball can take pride in.

Missed one of the earlier reviews? You can go back and read them here:

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