Charlie Kimball looks to continue methodical growth in 2014

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Methodical, year-on-year growth has been the story of Charlie Kimball’s first three years in IndyCar.

The Camarillo, Calif. native was admittedly in at the deep end in 2011, in a six-driver rookie class, as second driver at Chip Ganassi Racing’s new second two-car team that was down on data, information and available chassis compared to the sister Target squad.

In 2012, the points standing for Kimball didn’t change, but the results did. A second at Toronto – featuring arguably the pass of that year at Turn 3 – was the highlight among a few other moments.

But in 2013 there was the near-quantum leap. The first win at Mid-Ohio, done by flooring it compared to fuel saving, plus a fantastic pass of Simon Pagenaud. The second place at Pocono. The “Holy (expletive)!” pass of Will Power at Barber; the near-miss win at Fontana.

More than any of that? There was a huge qualifying leap year-on-year for the driver of the No. 83 Novo Nordisk entry. In 2012, Kimball’s qualifying average was 17.3; in 2013, that jumped to 12.8, a full five positions that would ultimately pay dividends and lead to more top-10 finishes.

As a result, Kimball ended a surprise, but deserved ninth in last year’s points standings after finishing 19th each of his first two seasons. He was ahead of illustrious names such as Dario Franchitti, Tony Kanaan, and his former “CGR 2” teammate Graham Rahal – the latter by a full nine positions.

As Kimball and his engineer Brad Goldberg continued to grow, the team dynamic improved too with Kimball’s now-solo “CGR 2” effort more in line with the Target twins. As 2014 begins with the fourth car back in play, now driven by Ryan Briscoe, Kimball hopes the dynamic can carry over.

“Last year the integration was maybe a little smoother because there were only three data points, it was quieter,” Kimball said during IndyCar media day in Orlando.

“I think the single best definition of teamwork I’ve ever seen is the number of crew guys in a tiny Mid-Ohio sports car garage rebuilding a car after I crashed in practice so I could go out for qualifying and qualify fifth,” he added. “It didn’t matter what color shirts they were wearing, they were all in working on the car getting it ready to go.”

For 2014, Kimball, like the rest of the CGR crew, will go through a change in the shift to a Chevrolet engine. It will mark the first time the 29-year-old has gone through an engine change process in his IndyCar career.

“It’s not just unbolt an engine, slide another one in. There’s electronics packages, so many mechanical parts and pieces to make it work,” Kimball explained. “The transition has been pretty painless and very seamless. To be able to jump in the car the first day, do as many miles as we wanted, getting used to it, has been surprising, but also very, very nice.”

Compared to fellow 2011 rookies James Hinchcliffe and JR Hildebrand, the latter of whom is sidelined full-time heading into 2014, Kimball has flown a little under the radar and let his driving now do the talking.

That’s by choice. While Hinchcliffe can grab the sound bites, Kimball can grab the results for the team without ever making a big scene of it.

“I think there are certain drivers with bigger personalities,” Kimball explained. “Part of it is I think my upbringing has never been real outspoken. I’ve always tried to be pretty quiet.

“Growing up my dad always had a saying, and I will inevitably screw this up, but, ‘It’s better to keep your mouth shut and thought a fool than open it and confirm the fact.’

“I think I’ve always tried to live by that and as much as possible let whatever it is I’m doing, be it on the track, young at school, on the tennis court, let my driving do the talking for me.”

His driving – to those with a keen eye of the IndyCar Series over the last two years – has definitely begun to do just that more than his national presence with Novo Nordisk.

He’s had the chance to reflect on what he gained in 2013, and what new driver additions Briscoe and Tony Kanaan can bring to the table this year.

“Tony brings a lot of different skills and a different personality, as does Ryan,” Kimball said. “I think going back from three to four cars will change the organization maybe more than what losing Dario (Franchitti) as a teammate will.

“Having said that, I think I will always miss having Dario as a teammate and competitor because of how much he helped me in the first three years, what his being involved in the team, being able to talk to meant. But gaining him as a mentor, assistant to the team, as a coach, he is invaluable.”

You don’t expect Kimball to be one of the talking points coming into the 2014 season, as there’s been so much other change within the Ganassi organization this winter.

But if he continues that year-on-year growth he’s shown thus far, expect Kimball’s driving to be earning him headlines as the season progresses.

NASCAR Truck drivers feel the earth move sitting in NHRA powerhouses

Photos courtesy Kalitta Motorsports
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Several NASCAR Camping World Truck Series drivers got to see how the other half lives – namely, their counterparts in the NHRA – on Thursday at Charlotte Motor Speedway and across the street at zMax Dragway.

To say it was an eye-opening experience is putting it mildly.

Top Fuel drag racers Shawn Langdon and Troy Coughlin Jr., as well as Funny Car driver J.R. Todd – all from one of the top teams in the NHRA, Kalitta Motorsports – are in Charlotte for this weekend’s 4-Wide Nationals at zMax Dragway.

NASCAR Trucks driver Noah Gragson gets to feel the 10,000 horsepower of a Top Fuel dragster.

Thursday, they invited NASCAR drivers Ryan Truex, Christopher Bell, Grant Enfinger and Noah Gragson to show how it’s done NHRA-style.

Todd, Langdon and Coughlin started the day taking Toyota Camry pace cars around the 1.5-mile CMS oval.

Then everyone moved across the street to see some real horsepower, namely, 10,000 horses worth – which is roughly about 13 times the power they have under the hood of their race trucks.

Truex and Bell got a chance to “warm up” Todd’s Funny Car, while Enfinger and Gragson did the same with Langdon’s Top Fueler.

 

Meanwhile, Todd and Langdon both did smoky burnouts that, if the Truck guys thought they could do burnouts, they learned a lot to the contrary.

“It was a cool to do a big smoky burnout,” Todd said. “It was cool to see the guys reactions. We had a great time today and I think we created several new fans.”

Added Langdon, “Days like today is what makes me love our sport even more. Bringing these guys over here and letting them hit the throttle and sit in the car when it warms up gives them a look at what we do. To see the smiles on their faces after a badass burnout and how excited they are, just gets me pumped.”

Here’s what the NASCAR guys thought about the experience.

Bell: “J.R. Todd let me sit in his Toyota Camry Funny Car and they even cracked the throttle open for me when we were warming up the motor. It is something that I will remember for the rest of my life. It is a feeling like none other.”

Enfinger: “Just a crazy experience, something I have never done. Been able to do a lot of cool things with Toyota, but it is not every day that you get to make your dad jealous.”

Gragson: “This was awesome. It was the experience of a lifetime. It was great to hang out with J.R. Todd, Shawn and Troy Jr. Definitely a cool experience; one that I will remember forever.”

Truex: “This has probably been the craziest experience that I have ever been a part of. I got to sit in a Funny Car; they hit the throttle, which really scared me. When I was outside the car, I jumped about three feet in the air. It was cool to get inside and experience that. The nitro was all in my face, and I think they gained a new fan with me today.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

 

F1 drivers split on new ‘shield’ protection

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SOCHI, Russia (AP) Formula One drivers are split over plans to test a new “shield” device to protect against flying debris.

The FIA will trial the transparent screen in the coming months for a potential introduction in 2018, as it pushes for greater head protection for drivers. Recent years have seen major head injuries in several motorsport series.

“I wouldn’t mind trying out the shield, seeing how is the visibility,” Mercedes driver Valtteri Bottas said on Thursday. “In terms of safety it would be a good step compared to what we have now.”

Red Bull’s Daniel Ricciardo was another supporter, saying “we’ve still got to see a bit more, but first impressions seem OK.”

The FIA previously seemed to favor a metal frame known as the “halo,” which was designed to stop a flying wheel hitting a driver’s head but was criticized by some drivers on aesthetic grounds.

Toro Rosso’s Daniil Kvyat said on Thursday he was “quite against” the shield and the halo. “The way Formula One should look should remain the same,” he added. “We have enough protection.”

Romain Grosjean of Haas voiced concern the “next step” would be completely closed cockpits.

Recent years have seen several high-profile head injuries, including the deaths of Formula Two driver Henry Surtees in 2009 when he was hit by a loose wheel and IndyCar driver Justin Wilson, who was struck by debris, in 2015.

In Formula One, Brazilian driver Felipe Massa missed the second half of the 2009 season when a loose spring from another car hit his helmet, leaving him needing surgery.

Haas changes F1 brake supplier ahead of Russian Grand Prix

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Haas has switched from Brembo to Carbon Industrie brakes ahead of this weekend’s Russian Grand Prix in a bid to remedy its long-running braking issues in Formula 1.

NASCAR team co-owner Gene Haas took his eponymous operation onto the F1 grid in 2016, with Romain Grosjean scoring all 29 of its points through its debut season.

Grosjean and then-teammate Esteban Gutierrez had their efforts spurned on a number of occasions by brake issues which continued to arise through pre-season testing in 2017 and the early races.

Haas pushed to remedy the issue by testing new Carbon Industrie brakes in the post-Bahrain Grand Prix test, with Grosjean and new teammate Kevin Magnussen conducting running.

The team duly decided to fit the new Carbon Industrie brakes for this weekend’s race in Russia, with both VF-17 cars to run with them from Friday onwards.

“To be fair to Brembo, the last update in brakes we had that arrived in China were much better. It took a long time to get them,” Grosjean explained.

“So then I was not screaming to change to Carbone Industrie but it was in the pipeline, so we tried them, and both drivers were pretty pleased with them. We felt like we had more control under braking.

“I’m very sensitive to my left pedal, so I really need to get good brakes to get good confidence and push the car to its maximum limit. So we are going to run them here.

“There is still a little bit of work we need to be doing around the mapping and finding the solution around those brakes but I think yeah, definitely it’s going to help me a little bit to find the last few hundredths.”

NHRA: Chad Head to substitute for Alexis DeJoria in Charlotte

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Alexis DeJoria will miss this weekend’s NHRA Four-Wide Nationals in Charlotte, with her Kalitta Motorsports team confirming DeJoria will need to tend to a family matter.

Chad Head, Kalitta Motorsports Director of Safety, will step into the Tequila Patrón Toyota Camry this weekend. No timetable was given for DeJoria’s return; after Charlotte this weekend, the NHRA Mello Yello Drag Racing Series continues for its third consecutive race weekend next week in Atlanta.

This isn’t the first race DeJoria has had to miss recently, as she also was diagnosed with a concussion and missed the 2016 NHRA season finale in Pomona.