Kimball a top sleeper at Mid-Ohio after missing 2012

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I’m calling it now: Charlie Kimball is a top sleeper pick for this IZOD IndyCar Series race weekend at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing driver will be primed for a big weekend at the track after missing the race last year, due to a fractured right hand from a testing accident.

In his rookie year in 2011, Mid-Ohio was one of a handful of tracks where the personable Californian made an impact. He started 10th, ran in the top five all day and ended an unrepresentative 11th.

Earlier this year, Kimball led the three-car Ganassi contingent on pace and performance all weekend on the only other permanent road course raced thus far in 2013: Barber Motorsports Park. Kimball made his first Firestone Fast Six, ran in the top three all day after starting fifth and finished fourth after a gutsy pass on Will Power.

His teammate Scott Dixon, in the No. 9 Target Honda, is the odds-on favorite after winning four of the last six races at Mid-Ohio.

But given Kimball’s road course prowess, the improved Honda spec engines that have come to life the last few races and the gains made by the entire CGR team after its test at Sebring this summer, this could be a weekend where Kimball repeats his Barber efforts, and perhaps scores his second podium of the season.

A solid result could propel him into the top 10 in points, as he currently sits 11th, just one point behind Power.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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