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.

Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen’s two-man battle in Motocross provides surprises

Rich Shepherd, ProMotocross
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The 2019 Motocross season is one-third in the books and the title battle may have already come down to a two-man contest, while the pair of contenders might just be a little surprising in their own way.

Strictly by the numbers, no one can count Eli Tomac’s early season charge of first- and second-place finishes shocking, but threepeating in Motocross is such an incredibly difficult feat that no one would have been surprised to see him struggle out of the gates either. And in fact, that is precisely what happened.

Tomac came out of the gates slow in Round 1 and was seventh by the end of Lap 1 of Moto 1 – hardly the auspicious start he hoped for. He rebounded only as far as fourth and that ultimately cost him a chance to win the overall. Tomac won Moto 2 to claim second overall.

In Round 2, Tomac found his rhythm and won both Motos and grabbed the red plate. For the moment, he had the momentum with three consecutive Moto wins.

Tomac stumbled again in Round 3 – this time finishing only fifth in Moto 1 and earning only 16 points to dig a deep hole that eventually surrendered the red plate to Ken Roczen.

It was at Thunder Valley in Round 3 that a pattern emerged. Tomac would not make it easy on himself early in the day, but was more than capable of winning the second Motos to overcome his deficit.

That Roczen has won this season is also not a surprise in itself. Many believed his ascent to the top step of the podium was way overdue.

That he has run so well, however, was not entirely expected at the start of the season. Since injuring both arms in a pair of accidents, Roczen came tantalizingly close to snapping his winless streak a dozen times. He won heat races during the Supercross season and finished second at Anaheim I, Minneapolis, Dallas, and Seattle earlier this year.

He just couldn’t secure the overall win.

Roczen’s Moto 1 victory at Hangtown might have been the precursor to another disappointing weekend, but once Tomac got into the lead, Roczen zeroed in on the Kawasaki’s back tire and finished second in route to the overall victory.

Roczen lost the overall and the red plate to Tomac in Round 2 at Pala, but he stood on the podium in both Motos. Roczen podiumed twice again in Round 3 while taking that overall victory to regain the red plate in what has become a seesaw affair in the early part of the 2019 season.

Last week, Roczen looked more like Tomac with his desperate struggle in Moto 1 and sixth-place finish. That was the first (and so far only) time this season that he failed to stand on the podium.

Roczen’s Moto 2 win last week was just enough to put him second overall with barely enough points to force a tie at the top of the leaderboard with 176 points apiece.

Meanwhile, Tomac failed to win either Moto with a third in the first race and runner-up finish in the second.

The moral victory and advantage may shift to Roczen this week.

As they have swapped the victory in the first four rounds with Roczen winning the odd-numbered events, he sees this weekend’s Round 5 as an opportunity.

“I’m looking forward to next weekend’s race,” Roczen said in a team press release. “The track is sandy. It’s very similar—actually almost identical—to what I ride on a regular basis at home.”

Tomac and Roczen enter Round 5 with a 32-point advantage over two riders tied for third in the standings.

So far Zach Osborne and Jason Anderson have not been in the same league as the leaders, but it only takes one slip of the wheel to fall out of the points in in a race and allow these racers to close the gap.

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