Kimball: More direct interaction a benefit

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Three might be the magic number for Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing’s Charlie Kimball this year.

His third year of IndyCar is his first as part of the streamlined three-car effort between the Novo Nordisk camp and the flagship Target Chip Ganassi squad, where Kimball has been able to better directly interact with its drivers Scott Dixon and Dario Franchitti.

A methodical approach has aided his development and progress to this point, and the feedback between the three has been beneficial.

“I think one thing I’ve noticed in the testing and then in the first two rounds of the season is that with three inputs from drivers, you have a better opportunity to learn, and learn from what they’re doing car-wise, driving-wise, engineering-wise,” Kimball said in a conference call on Wednesday. “So to be able to pull highlights from Scott and from Dario, and have a little more time to talk to them individually, the communication has been a little easier definitely starting the season. I think the more that the 83 team is able to run up front, the more we’re contributing back to the 9 and 10 cars.”

His integration in the team has also improved.

“I think the biggest things I’ve learned have not been about a certain corner or a certain racetrack,” he said. “It’s more about how to work with the team and how much effort to put in and how that be repaid by the crew members and by the mechanics. It’s more about managing the team and working with all of the tools that are available to maximize what options we have.”

Kimball had one of, if not his best overall weekends last race at Barber when he qualified fifth and finished fourth. He noted there were signs of being close to a result in the last three races of 2012, but ultimately they failed to come to fruition.

Both Kimball and Franchitti will be back in their usual liveries at Long Beach after having different orange and blue paint schemes at Barber.

Teammates James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens earn top-fives at Barber

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For the first time this season, Schmidt Peterson Motorsports teammates James Hinchcilffe and Robert Wickens earned top-five finishes in the same race at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala.

Hinchcliffe finished third in the Grand Prix of Alabama; Wickens was one spot behind in fourth.

Wickens had one previous podium at Phoenix with his second-place finish. Hinchcliffe’s best result was a fourth in the season-opener in St Petersburg, Fla., so this marked his first podium of the year.

Both drivers needed a little help from the rain.

As precipitation began to fall in the closing stages of the race, Hinchliffe asked his team on a couple of occasions if it was wet enough to pit for rain tires. He was told twice to stay out and was then called into to the pits at the optimal time.

“Solid weekend for us after coming here before – not a great test,” Hinchcliffe said. “Two cars in the top 10 qualifying; two cars, top five in the race. Pretty proud of these boys, everybody on the Arrow car.”

The rain helped Wickens’ race strategy come together.

“I was having to save a lot of fuel in that second stint,” Wickens said. “So once (Scott) Dixon starting getting close to me I was thinking ‘Oh God, I’m going to actually have to give this one up.’ And then the rain came, so the fuel mileage happened naturally. So, yeah, it saved us a bit.”

And while both were pleased with their top-five finishes, drivers are rarely satisfied unless they are standing on the top step of the podium.

Wickens’ top-five finish was hard-fought. After winning the pole at St Petersburg and starting sixth at Phoenix, he failed to advance to the Fast 6 in back-to-back races at Long Beach and Barber – qualifying 10th both times.

“I was a little gutted that we came out in a big bunch of traffic,” Wickens continued. “It made the race fun, but a little frustrating as well because of people off sequence and whatnot. We lost a lot of track position there. Both of us could have been fighting for higher steps on the podium, but we need to do a little better job in qualifying. “