Charlie Kimball has had, by any objective analysis, his most complete season yet in his sixth full-time Verizon IndyCar Series campaign from a pure qualifying and results standpoint in 2016.
He’s finished between fifth and 12th in 13 of the 15 races, and he’s on pace to have his best qualifying average (10.8 through 15 races) by a country mile (his first five years: 18.0, 17.4, 12.8, 16.3, 13.3).
So the driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Chevrolet for Chip Ganassi Racing, who currently sits ninth in points and could match or exceed his career-best finish in the championship (ninth in 2013) with a strong run at the Sonoma Raceway season finale is qualifying and racing higher up the field than he’s used to.
But hearing some of the comments from his competitors on-track, you’d think as though Kimball was this evil competitor who races dirty, drives people off the track and doesn’t have proper race craft. Reading Will Power and Rick Mears’ respective comments after Kimball’s eventful day Sunday at Watkins Glen International made it seem as though Kimball was out for blood on track. When instead, Kimball is actually one of the nicest people in the paddock and has thoroughly improved – and impressed – this season.
Here’s the thing – while both Power and Graham Rahal were understandably aggrieved in the heat of the moment after crashing out on Sunday, in both incidents where Kimball was involved, it was hard to call them anything other than racing incidents.
Looking at the Power collision first, it was really hard to think that Power saw Kimball, who got a monster run up the hill through the Esses, before it was too late when Power transitioned back to the natural racing line, then cutting across Kimball’s bow and crashing into the Armco barrier.
Could Kimball have perhaps transitioned from his run to the inside of the track rather than outside? Sure, but in a split-second decision like that, the momentum was carrying him more around the outside and a rapid dart back to the inside could have also had consequences. Remember, it’s not like Kimball was trying to take himself out of the race when he got the run on Power.
“From my side, knowing the result, if I knew going into that lap that it would cause an accident I wouldn’t make the move,” Kimball explained to NBC Sports. “Once he had no idea I was there or wouldn’t give me the room, it was too late to avoid the incident.”
With the Rahal incident earlier in the race, Kimball left Rahal enough room to the inside and was wide on corner exit of Turn 1. Rahal and Kimball collided and Rahal went into the inside tire barriers after the contact.
“With Graham, I was on the curb,” Kimball explained. “His comment was, he said he had the pass completed, but if there was any contact at all, it was tire to rear, so he was established alongside, and I left him a lane, which I did. It looked like he was going for the overtake button. I don’t know what I should do there, other than give up.”
But Kimball expressed the far more important point that Rahal was fine and Power was cleared to drive earlier this week, to race at Sonoma.
“There’s been a lot of vitriol, and follow-up comments. And frankly, the single most important thing is that Will’s cleared to drive tomorrow and race next weekend,” Kimball said.
“None of the drivers – none of us – wants to see any of us got hurt. We are a family. If a driver can’t compete because of concussion-like symptoms, injuries, we as the IndyCar family aren’t complete. That’s the most important thing.
“There’s always different perspectives of racing incidents. Monday morning quarterbacking is the easiest thing to do in sport! There’s so many people that give highlight reels, question coaches calls, and players’ calls, for weeks.”
As Formula E enters their ninth season and McLaren Racing is set to compete in last year’s championship winning car, Ian James is passionate about pushing electric motorsports forward at a critical stage as race technology begins surpassing that of the street cars.
McLaren’s electric portfolio is building with the Formula E team coming one year after they entered the Extreme E rally series in 2022 with Tanner Foust and Emma Gilmour. There were a lot of lessons to learn in that series with growing pains during the first three of five rounds. Rounds 4 and 5 were a completely different matter with the team crossing the finish line first in Chile before being assessed a time penalty.
In the final round in Uruguay, they scored an elusive podium.
“McLaren kicked off the season in Extreme E at the beginning of this year, so our first [electric] race took place Neom, actually out in Saudi,” NEOM McLaren Racing Team Principal James told NBC Sports. “At the time, we were in very early discussions about opportunities with the Formula E team. I actually went out there to meet with Zak [Brown, CEO McLaren Racing] and that was my first taste of Extreme E.
“Since the transition, I joined them in Chile in Atacama Desert, and then Uruguay last weekend. [The second-place finish was] a lovely way to round out the season. The fact that they got that podium. It was very well deserved. It’s a great team and a great series actually. It’s just so very different from anything else. The team’s done a great job in getting set up, and it’s nice now to, we’re trying to use that momentum that we’ve got from Uruguay to get us into next season when it kicks off next year, which will be great. I think we’re mid-March is looking like the first race, so a little bit of time to get things prepped for that.”
Synergies exist between the single seater and rally series. Lessons learned about battery power and sustainability in the electric SUV carry over so long as one is mindful of keeping focus on the individual needs and nuances of each series.
Especially now that electric racing technology has caught up, and is ready to surpass, the existing technology that has gone into building street cars.
When internal combustion engines gained the upper hand soon after automobiles were invented, racing paced alongside. The pressure of competition pushed the development of their commercial equivalents. The same has not necessarily been true of electric cars. Street cars were not designed to undergo the same stress as racecars – and that vulnerability showed up on the racetrack.
“Formula E has come along a long way,” James said. “I think one of the most notable developments is in the battery technology. In Gen 1, you had the drivers jumping from one car to another car midrace because the battery technology and capacity simply wasn’t where it needed to be to do the full distance. That obviously changed in Gen 2 and we saw a power increase as well to the 250 kilowatts.
“Now going to Gen 3, we have 350 kilowatts in a smaller battery. But that means that we’re relying on the regeneration of energy and for that reason, we’ve got also the opportunity to regenerate on the front axle as well as the rear axle now. So, there’s all sorts of things that are developing in the right direction.
“In terms of throttle response, actually, we’re now in a situation with electric racing and the motors that it’s instantaneous. And one of the advantages of electric over combustion engine is that the torque is instantaneous as well, so that gives you a lot more room to play with.”
No matter the power source, racing has always been about resource management. Drivers and teams select tire strategies they believe produce the fastest elapsed time and fuel conservation comes into play.
On one hand, electric racing is the same, but there is a critical difference. With the battery as both the power source and an integral part of the engine, there are multiple reasons to manage it.
In electric racing, the brain of the car is the software – and that is where James sees the greatest room for advancement.
“As we are working with our drivers and engineers – and start to look at functionality to improve our efficiency and our performance, that’s something we’ll continue to push because that development is open throughout the season,” James said. “That’s going to be our focus going forward and provides enough of a challenge for us to get our teeth into.
“What’s going to be fascinating is as Formula E continues, is to really look at which areas of development on the car are going to be the most relevant and ensuring that we can focus on those together with the manufacturers so we continue and use the series as a platform for technical development that can then feed back into the road car side of things as well.
“At the end of the day, that’s what motorsports always been, a very powerful tool for, and I see Formula E as no exception.”
Selecting Rast and Hughes as McLaren’s Formula E drivers was not simply because they know how to drive fast. James believes both drivers have the mental aptitude to execute energy management strategies throughout the race and squeeze maximum performance.
“As with many other motorsports, you’ve got a certain amount of energy that you’re able to deploy during the race and the management of that energy is absolutely crucial,” James said. “What we’re seeing typically in electric motorsports now is the hardware side of things. The efficiencies that we’re seeing in the powertrain as a whole, they’re getting up to the sort of 96%, 97%, 98% efficiency, so the gains that you get through that further and further become more marginal.”
With much more room for improvement, software is a different matter. To make the best decisions, the drivers need data, and that is where James believes McLaren Formula E will make their greatest impact.
“And then you really switch that focus to the software and that’s where you’re going to see the most the most improvement and the most gains,” James continued. “It’s then using that software to ensure that you’re deploying the energy in the most efficient manner during race, and thereby giving the driver the most performance. And that’s something which is incredibly complicated, but I find it a fascinating area to work in.
“The benefit of being involved in racing is you can really push the envelope in a way that you can’t do on road cars. And I think that that’s where that value comes in. It means that you accelerate the development a lot quicker. We will get ahead of the curve – and we are getting ahead of the curve now – and that will mean that the electric motorsports remain part of the overall development process.
“The key to that is also making sure that the racing’s exciting and fun for the fans. If we can, we can tick both of those boxes, then it’s got a very bright future ahead of it.”