Occasionally derided or just known as “that driver with diabetes,” it’s been a long road for Charlie Kimball to get to victory lane in the IZOD IndyCar Series, as he finally did Sunday at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.
The third-year driver from Camarillo, Calif. was the less heralded member of IndyCar’s trio of young North American rookie class in 2011. JR Hildebrand had the championship pedigree from Firestone Indy Lights and the deferral to MIT, while James Hinchcliffe was the self-made brand as the “Mayor of Hinchtown.” Kimball was there, deservedly so, but didn’t earn near the hype or accolades as his fellow Californian or that quirky Canadian.
At the time, honestly, he’d probably tell you he didn’t deserve any. Hildebrand was famously one corner away from a win in his first Indianapolis 500 start while Hinchcliffe took to IndyCar like a duck to water and earned Rookie-of-the-Year honors. Kimball, meanwhile, struggled with only five starts better than 16th and just two top-10 finishes; he finished 19th in points.
But come year two, Kimball was closer to the finished product and adapted quite well to the new Dallara DW12 chassis. As he and engineer Brad Goldberg found their comfort zone, they started qualifying better – he improved his qualifying position at every track except Barber – and had at least moved into the upper midfield with six top-10 finishes. Toronto, his first podium, proved the highlight with an unforgettable pass of Tony Kanaan and Simon Pagenaud at Turn 3, en route to second.
In year three, Kimball is nearly the finished article. The qualifying’s gotten better still, his road course prowess has increased, and the addition of new team manager Tom Wurtz just prior to Detroit has provided another level of leadership and experience with which to draw on.
Add in the one-year drop of a fourth car and the cohesive work between the Novo Nordisk and Target crews, and you see why Kimball is now tied for seventh in points in one of the deeper IndyCar fields in the last 20 years.
To hear him tell it, as he did after his win on Sunday at Mid-Ohio, it’s not as much about him as it is the effort of his team. It has been a methodical, step-by-step developmental process not unlike a baseball player who comes in raw as a rookie and improves with seasoning.
“It’s special for me, but it’s more importantly special for everyone that’s helped me get here,” said Kimball. “Chip taking the risk on me three years ago as a young rookie; Novo Nordisk, their commitment to my program and the commitment to motorsports to reach their audience over the last five years is fantastic.”
“It’s so fulfilling for me and for a lot of people,” he added. “I think that when you’re in the meetings with Chip and your first year, he’s telling you to go out and just finish the races and learn as much as possible. And you get a lot of flak for not getting the results that you might expect or want to, but you’re following the boss’s orders.
“Now to be able to repay that in my third year; I said at the beginning of the year that the last couple of years, we got the experience, we built the foundation, and as a team, we are ready to win, now we just need to do it. So to be able to get that win today and this weekend was definite validation for Chip, for the Novo Nordisk Group, my engineer, Brad, and all of the crew.”