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.