All photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

Inside the rink: Charlie Kimball, Honda take on NHL All-Star Game

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Editor’s note: Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, took over the Verizon IndyCar Series Instagram and Snapchat social media accounts during the NHL All-Star Game at STAPLES Center this weekend in Los Angeles. Honda is the official vehicle of the NHL. While there, Kimball was also keeping apprised of his Ganassi and Honda teammates racing at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Kimball recounts his reflections of the weekend on ice and watching the cars metaphorically on ice, when speaking to MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno.

One of my many interests outside the cockpit is watching hockey, and so to have the opportunity to take in the NHL All-Star Game presented by Honda not far from my hometown in Los Angeles was something I really appreciated having the chance to do.

The @charliekimball Instagram takeover starts right now! #hockeygoeshollywood #indycargoeshollywood #nhlallstar #nhl100

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As drivers, we’re always working to engage with our fans via social media. But to be honest, I’d never done anything as in-depth as a full account takeover, which I did this weekend for IndyCar. So this was a deeper dive into taking over a full social media presence, compared to just my own, for an in-depth weekend. For me, it was a neat way to express something I’ve been super interested in, and has ties to racing on NBCSN and with Honda. This was a chance for me to be able to share a little bit of what I like other than racing, with non-traditional hockey fans.

The celebrity game and skills competition was fun to watch, and very impressive. Saturday night after the skills competition, there was a blink-182 concert, and you almost felt transplanted back in time because for only an hour show, they played all their big hits. And that was just the warm-up act!

The All-Star Game itself was a blast. When you get 3-on-3 hockey, there’s not a lot of defense played. The goalies get hung out to dry. So there’s lot happening in 10-minute periods each time they go out.

One of the things I really appreciate about hockey is how much those involved appreciate the sport. There’s a saying I’ve heard, where cricket is a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen, soccer is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen, and Aussie Rules Football is a game for hooligans played by hooligans. When you look at hockey, you think it could be a hard-hitting, vicious game. But the respect these guys have for each other, for the game, and the history of the game is unbelievable to witness.

Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

The NHL 100 celebration Friday night reminded me a lot of the Indianapolis 500 banquet. One of the first things they did was reveal the list of 100 greatest players, which included a number of players from the first 50 years of the game until 1960s… and right then, four living players walked out. Not even 10 seconds into it and the current players in the audience just applauded straightaway. That respect and the understanding for the game of hockey is really an indication of how remarkable the game and appreciation is.

You can draw so many parallels to IndyCar. The driver back then were right on the limit of everything their cars could do. It’s the same in the ice rink.

Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

While there’s appreciation for the legends, there’s also good times and laughter we got to have with the mascots this trip. I believe 27 of the NHL mascots were in town. I got to know Bailey – the Kings mascot – when we were out in November. We’d shared some Twitter love. So I took a pic of the mascot showdown, and a number of bad puns were made. But all of them were in STAPLES Center, interacting with kids during TV timeouts. They were messing around with people and each other, which produced some classics! Nash – the Nashville Predator – came by. He came and took a photo with all the kids. They’d known each other and seen them at Predators games. It’s pretty cool the relationships that the mascots build with the fans.

The skills competition was the showcase event prior to the game on Saturday. It ended up a five-stage competition to pit the four divisions against each other. First off it was a relay, so there were thre wrist shots into an empty net, from the mid-line, the blue line, and close in. Then it moved into a passing competition, where one of the players had to pass a puck into a 4-inch by 2-inch goal! That was pretty serious. Then there was the puck handling… the skating competition. There’s six Gatorade bottles set out. They had to set this up and around. It went then to a tight-in, puck handling course, where you’d slide the puck through obstacles. There was a goalie shooting from his own goal over a barrier into the other goal at the end of ice. The winning time was crazy – a minute and 21 seconds. So all that happens in the time it takes me to do a lap of Watkins Glen!

Skills competition. Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Skills competition. Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

There were also the target shooters. A guy stands on blue line… and they’ll feed them the puck and show how quickly they knock out the targets. Sidney Crosby’s targeting is spectacular. His ability to place the puck is super impressive. There was the fastest skating competition. I joked in one of my Instagram or Snapchat stories that it’s self explanatory. They can skate so fast with the stick in hands, and in full pads. Then it was the fastest shot. So it’s a slapshot from halfway between blue line and goal, as long as it went in. It tripped the radar gun at like 104 mph. Then they did a shootout between Pacific and Atlantic. Atlantic won and got to play the metro division … this was like knockout qualifying. And then the knockout round went up until the final round of All-Star Game.

At this point, I was merely catching my breath from how exhilarating this competition was. But me being a racer and having done the Rolex 24 at Daytona before, I had to check in on my teammates down in Daytona. Scott, Tony and Sebastien were racing in the Ganassi Ford GTs and Graham and Ryan were in the new Acuras. The challenge now was finding a way to be able to watch.

I’d mentioned earlier on Saturday how we’re at the concert and party. So I pulled out my phone to check in, and I pulled up the IMSA app and I saw how cold and wet everyone is. They’re cold and wet, and I was warm and dry!

I’ve driven at the Rolex 24 twice and done the “graveyard shift.” These stints are overnight; they can feel lonely and take forever, and it’s hard to stay focused at that point. Throw the challenge of rain in there and I was very impressed with the limited accidents in the rain.

Anyway, Saturday night, the only place that has FS2 TV coverage was the bar. So we sat at the bar from midnight to 12:30, so 3:30 a.m. ET, and it looked absolutely miserable. We ended up sitting next to a bunch of race fans. They were tangentially aware, and were seeing what our interest was in the race. We got up the next morning, and we had a decision to make: we could go to the NHL All-Star Brunch, or watch the last hour from the hotel and order room service.

Kimball able to watch at the bar... but not the final hour. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball
Kimball able to watch the Rolex 24 at the bar… but not the final hour. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

In the last hour.. I couldn’t watch. I could not watch that GTLM battle. It was just craziness! But it was unbelievable, as the Ganassi Fords won in class. And it was nice to see the NSX run as well as it did in its debut. It wasn’t just the Ganassi boys, but it was the Honda brethren. Graham and Ryan ran up front. There’s some bugs to work out, but it’s their first year in an endurance car. It ran really well and they did a really nice job.

We made it back to STAPLES for the game. The final act was incredible; being at STAPLES – it’s all (Los Angeles) Kings and Pacific fans. So that last sequence when the puck nearly went in… we were all asking how it did not go in? That was a $90,000 miss right there. The prize money is $1 million awarded to the winning team, and split up among the 11 players. It was a thoroughly fun event and tense right down to the end.

I’ve had people ask whether some kind of all-star event might work for INDYCAR as well. It would be a great way to highlight the participants, especially those who have a great first half of the season. But the series is so good right now you’d need to have all the cars involved. Maybe you have different physical competitions, or highlight things we do week-in, week-out that you don’t see on the race broadcast. Say you look at Firestone guys breaking down or mounting tires. The question would be who would sponsor it and where would it be. But it could provide some cool highlights.

Event logo, Honda logo, Charlie and wife Kathleen. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball
Event logo, Honda logo, Charlie and wife Kathleen. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

This was a super fun weekend, all around. It’s great to have the Honda family support because there’s so many things they are involved with beyond INDYCAR. There’s the NHL, redesigned Ridgeline, 2017 CRV and more. And you’ve seen what Bridgestone/Firestone have done with the Winter Classic.

It’s been nice for me to be back with Honda and it’ll be cool to do more fun things as the year goes on. As of next week though it’s back to the day job with our open test at Phoenix!

Thanks for reading.

-CK


John Force has a job for soon-to-be retired Dale Earnhardt Jr.

Photo courtesy John Force official Twitter page
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The battle for Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s post-retirement services has begun.

And leave it to none other than 16-time NHRA Funny Car champ John Force to be the first to offer Junior a job.

As a Funny Car driver, of course.

Look at the plusses: they both drive for Chevrolet, they both like beer, Junior wouldn’t have to worry about turning left or right (on road courses) any more, he’d be able to stay on the straight and narrow (drag strip, that is) and …

Perhaps the best thing of all, he could ultimately become Force’s replacement as the most popular driver in NHRA drag racing when (or if) Force ever decides to retire himself.

Check out Force’s job offer:

Several current or former Verizon IndyCar Series drivers also took to social media to pay homage to Junior — including another member of the Force family, son-in-law Graham Rahal, who is married to drag racer Courtney Force.

 

 

 

Loftus Robinson Rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for Indy 500

Photo: Dreyer and Reinbold Racing
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Indianapolis-based real estate developer Loftus Robinson will rejoin Dreyer and Reinbold Racing for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil. The relationship between Loftus Robinson and DRR goes back to 2015, when they first partnered for the “500.” The partnership continues for 2017, with Sage Karam piloting the effort for the second consecutive year.

“Being an Indianapolis-based company, we felt it has been important to partner with another local company, Dreyer & Reinbold Racing, in the famed Indy 500,” said Drew Loftus, co-principal of Loftus Robinson. “The Indianapolis Motor Speedway has served as a great backdrop for our business’ growth. We have enjoyed our relationship with Dennis and his racing team. They have built a tremendous infrastructure to assist us and our partners through the event. We’re anxious to see Sage back on track in the No. 24 DRR Chevrolet this May.”

Team co-owner Dennis Reinbold echoed Loftus’ enthusiam. “Loftus Robinson has been one of the Indianapolis area’s top young commercial real estate companies in recent years and we are very pleased to have them back in 2017 with our Indy 500 entry,” he explained. “Loftus Robinson has utilized our racing team’s participation in the world’s greatest auto race to formulate strong relationships with their business partners as well as developing new clients right at the track. We hope to put them in victory lane on May 28 with Sage at the wheel.”

Practice for the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil begins on May 15.

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JR Hildebrand cleared to return for Phoenix

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After sitting out the Honda Indy Grand Prix of Alabama last weekend, JR Hildebrand will be able to return to action for this weekend’s Desert Diamond West Valley Phoenix Grand Prix (Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, NBCSN), after being cleared Tuesday to drive.

The primary driver of the No. 21 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet for Ed Carpenter Racing sustained a broken bone in his left hand in a final lap accident at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach on April 9, after a collision with Mikhail Aleshin. He was re-evaluated upon returning to Indianapolis and was not cleared to drive for the Barber Motorsports Park race.

Hildebrand was on site in Birmingham, Ala. in a driver coach role for Zach Veach, who filled in for his Verizon IndyCar Series debut. Veach started and finished 19th in his first start.

For Hildebrand, the return to Phoenix comes after he paced the series official preseason open test there in February, and comes as a great opportunity to come back from a challenging start to the year. Hildebrand had nondescript runs of 13th and 11th in the first two races but was 11th in points after Long Beach, although he fell to 21st when he missed Barber.

“It’s been a tricky couple of weeks working through this injury, I’m certainly anxious to get back in the car!” he said in a release. “I feel like I’m far enough along to be able to go for it this weekend in Phoenix. I know we’ve got a good program; I want to be able to come through for the team at an event where we should be strong. The competition there is tough, I expect we will really have to be on our game over the course of the weekend. I’m looking forward to getting back in the Fuzzy’s Vodka car! Everyone has been super helpful and I appreciate the hard work that everyone has put in to be able to get me back in.”

Meanwhile team owner Carpenter makes his first start of the season in the No. 20 Fuzzy’s Ultra Premium Vodka Chevrolet as part of his oval-only program.

Spencer Pigot will be back in the No. 20 car at the INDYCAR Grand Prix at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course on May 13, before Carpenter’s back in for the rest of the month of May leading up to and into the 101st Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil.

IMSA: Henzler, Bonanomi called up for drives at COTA

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Two fill-in drivers have been confirmed for the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship’s next race at Circuit of The Americas, on May 6.

Wolf Henzler will deputize for Kevin Estre in the No. 912 Porsche GT Team Porsche 911 RSR, while Marco Bonanomi will make his IMSA Prototype class debut as a fill-in driver for Tom Kimber-Smith in the No. 52 PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports Ligier JS P217 Gibson.

Henzler will be in the No. 912 car alongside Laurens Vanthoor in GT Le Mans in the first “standard” two-hour, 40-minute race of the season, the Advance Auto Parts Showdown, as Estre will be on FIA World Endurance Championship duty the same day in the WEC 6 Hours of Spa-Francorchamps with Porsche’s GT Team there.

Henzler’s absence means if TRG runs its Porsche 911 GT3 R at COTA in the GT Daytona class, Kevin Buckler would need a replacement for him.

There’s another potential fill-in-for-WEC driver scenario needed if Alegra Motorsports, the Rolex 24 at Daytona winners, were to run in GTD as well. Thus far Carlos de Quesada’s team has run Daniel Morad and Porsche factory driver Michael Christensen in its No. 28 Porsche in GTD through three races, but with Christensen and Estre set to share the No. 92 car at Spa, a replacement would need to be sourced there.

Bonanomi is the second replacement that is confirmed though. The Italian, who made one prior IMSA start since the 2014 merger with Fall-Line Motorsports in an Audi R8 LMS Ultra, will fill-in for “TKS,” who returns to England to take care of his mother, who is battling cancer.

“Tom will unfortunately miss the next race at Circuit of the Americas. He needs to be able to spend time back in the UK with his mother who is presently undergoing treatment for cancer,” said team principal Bobby Oergel.

“As all the drivers who have driven with PR1/Mathiasen Motorsports know, once you’re a part of our team, you’re family, and Tom is a big part of this family. It’s unfortunate that he will miss a round of the championship, but we know that family comes before racing, and we’re happy that he is able to take the time he needs to be with his family during this time.”

“Our thoughts and prayers are with Tom and his mother, and we are praying that she will be cancer free in the near future.”

Bonanomi has tested with the car and will share the car with Jose Gutierrez, who missed Long Beach as Will Owen filled in for him there.

“I was very happy to receive the call from PR1 to drive at their test at COTA. It was my first time driving the Ligier, but I think the test was very positive,” said Bonanomi.

“We tested some set up changes for the race that I think will be very good. The track itself is very demanding on the car and tires, especially with the extreme temperatures that can be present. The first practices during race week will be very critical to get everything just right in terms of set up, but after the test, I think we should be pretty close.”