Third straight Indy GP fifth place for Kimball tough one to swallow

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INDIANAPOLIS – Scott Dixon and runner-up finishes at Barber Motorsports Park go together like peanut butter and jelly. He had four in a row there from 2010 to 2013.

The same is true for Dixon’s Chip Ganassi Racing teammate Charlie Kimball and fifth place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course. He’s now got three straight from 2014 to today.

And for the driver we occasionally call “Super Chuck,” fifth on Saturday after qualifying a career-best second in the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet almost feels like a bad PB&J sandwich that was short on one ingredient or another.

Let’s face it – 23rd to fifth and 14th to fifth feels like you made something out of the day, as he did in 2014 and 2015. Second to fifth is when the result is hard to swallow.

But the good thing about it is, when you can come away with a weekend with this kind of performance and feel slightly disappointed, it means the expectations are higher and performance better than where it has been.

Kimball’s been off to a better start this year anyway with three top-10 starts and three top-10 finishes in the opening five races, counting this one. This marked both his best start and finish of 2016.

He led two laps today, got out in front of Simon Pagenaud (but couldn’t hold him off once out on cold tires with Pagenaud on hot ones), and then fell back on the final pit stop sequence. He was able to get around Conor Daly late for fifth but was too far back of race winner Pagenaud, Helio Castroneves, James Hinchcliffe and Graham Rahal.

“Frankly I’m a little disappointed with a top five, I think we were better than that today,” Kimball admitted post-race. “I wasn’t awesome on a couple of the race craft pieces but we made progress in the pits.  The Chip Ganassi Racing guys are always solid in the pits.

“We had a pretty good car, the Novo Nordisk car was solid, but the wake behind the Hondas seemed pretty big so I was struggling with that a little bit more.  The conditions being so different I think we got caught out a little bit. The car was definitely better when it was warmer yesterday, but overall a solid day for the No. 83 car.”

The solid day has Kimball a more than solid seventh in points heading into the rest of the month of May and the 100th Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil, a race he finished third in last year.

It’s hard to call Kimball – who has three top-10s in the 500 – a 500 “dark horse,” but he could well be a very good pick for the remainder of the month. Keep an eye on this team going forward, particularly as Kimball and new engineer Eric Cowdin seem to be gelling well.

Cowdin shifted from the No. 8 Ganassi team once Brad Goldberg, Kimball’s previous longtime engineer, shifted to Ganassi’s Ford GT sports car program and was part of that car’s first win at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca earlier this month.

Miguel Oliveira wins MotoGP Thai Grand Prix, Bagnaia closes to two points in championship

MotoGP Thai Grand Prix
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Miguel Oliveira mastered mixed conditions on the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand to win the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix. Oliveira showed the adaptability as he navigated a race that began in wet conditions and turned dry over the course of the race. Oliveira won the Indonesian GP in similar conditions.

“It was a long race, but I can’t complain,” Oliveira said on CNBC. “Every time we get to ride in the wet, I’m always super-fast. When it started raining, I had flashbacks of Indonesia. I tried to keep my feet on the ground, make a good start and not make mistakes and carry the bike to the end.”

All eyes were on the championship, however. Francesco Bagnaia got a great start to slot into second in Turn 1.

Meanwhile Fabio Quartararo had a disastrous first lap. He lost five positions in the first couple of turns and then rode over the rumble strips and fell back to 17th. At the end of the first lap, Bagnaia had the points’ lead by two. A win would have added to the gain and for a moment, it appeared Bagnaia might assume the lead.

Early leader Marco Bezzecchi was penalized for exceeding track limits, but before that happened, Jack Miller got around Bagnaia and pushed him back to third. Oliveira was not far behind.

After throwing away ninth-place and seven points on the last lap of the Japanese GP last week, Bagnaia did not allow the competition to press him into a mistake. He fell back as far as fourth before retaking the final position on the podium.

“It’s like a win for me, this podium,” Bagnaia. “My first podium in the wet and then there was a mix of conditions, so I’m very happy. I want to thank Jack Miller. Before the race, he gave me a motivational chat.”

Miller led the first half of the Thai Grand Prix before giving up the top spot to Oliveira and then held on to finish second. Coupled with his Japanese GP win, Miller is now fully in the MotoGP championship battle with a 40-point deficit, but he will need a string of results like Bagnaia has put together in recent weeks – and he needs Bagnaia to lose momentum.

Miller’s home Grand Prix in Australia is next up on the calendar in two weeks.

Bagnaia entered the race 18 points behind Quartararo after he failed to score any in Japan. The balance of power has rapidly shifted, however, with Quartararo now failing to earn points in two of the last three rounds. Bagnaia won four consecutive races and finished second in the five races leading up to Japan. His third-place finish in Thailand is now his sixth MotoGP podium in the last seven rounds.

Aleix Espargaro entered the race third in the standings with a 25-point deficit to Quartararo, but was able to close the gap by only five after getting hit with a long-lap penalty for aggressive riding when he pushed Darryn Binder off course during a pass for position. Espargaro finished 11th.

Rain mixed up the Moto2 running order in the MotoGP Thai Grand Prix as well. Starting on a wet track, Somkiat Chantra led the opening lap in his home Grand Prix. He could not hold onto it and crashed one circuit later, but still gave his countrymen a moment of pride by winning the pole.

Half points were awarded as the race went only eight laps before Tony Arbolino crossed under the checkers first with Filip Salac and Aron Canet rounding out the podium.

American Joe Roberts earned another top-10 in eighth with Sean Dylan Kelly finishing just outside the top 10 in 11th.