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IndyCar 2016 driver review: Charlie Kimball

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MotorSportsTalk continues its look through the driver-by-driver recaps following the 2016 Verizon IndyCar Series season, with a look at Charlie Kimball, who finished a career-best tied for ninth this year.

Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Chevrolet

  • 2015: 12th Place, Best Finish 3rd, Best Start 6th, 2 Podiums, 3 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 21 Laps Led, 13.3 Avg. Start, 13.1 Avg. Finish
  • 2016: 9th Place, Best Finish 5th, Best Start 2nd, 2 Top-5, 11 Top-10, 5 Laps Led, 10.9 Avg. Start, 9.2 Avg. Finish

“Super Chuck” drove what I thought was his best season yet in six full-time campaigns. Where he drew the ire of the paddock was with how hard he raced, but that spoke to a driver growing in confidence and not afraid to mix it up because he was at a higher position in the field than where he used to be.

Consider that Kimball’s starting average this year ended at 10.9, which was the highest of his career, and by a significant margin (it had been 16.3 and 13.3 in 2014 and 2015). For a driver usually in the 12th-17th place range on the grid, now it was a case of qualifying 11th was a disappointment, when two or three years ago, that might have been considered a “good day.” This is, for example, why after qualifying a career-best second at the Angie’s List Grand Prix of Indianapolis, he was frustrated to finish “only” fifth.

Alas, instead of dicing with say, a James Jakes, an Ana Beatriz or a Sebastian Saavedra, Kimball’s races were now spent racing a Ryan Hunter-Reay, a Juan Pablo Montoya, a Graham Rahal or a Will Power more regularly. It takes time for a driver to integrate themselves into the lead group and from my perspective, I think the field was a bit rankled that the guy who they rarely used to think of as a legitimate threat had now become one.

Kimball was flat consistent, all year. He never got too high – for the first time since his rookie season of 2011 he didn’t grace a podium – but he was never too low, either. In 16 races, he finished between fifth and 12th 14 times, and had a total of 11 top-10 finishes. He finished better than where he started in 11 of 16 races, as well. The 31-year-old also led the field in laps completed, finishing a whopping 99.7 percent of the total laps at 2,066 of 2,070 – only a brake failure on the final lap at St. Petersburg prevented that number from being even higher.

Kimball is also underrated because he is such a nice guy off the track. It speaks to the dedication he has to his partner, Novo Nordisk, and the quality of the team assembled around him at Chip Ganassi Racing that he’s been there for 100 starts. Chip doesn’t keep guys he doesn’t think can produce, and even though there are commercial reasons why Kimball remains, the fact is he has improved year-by-year, every year, since arriving in 2011.

Another thing that really impressed me this year was how well Kimball and new engineer Eric Cowdin gelled. Cowdin had worked with Tony Kanaan for most of his career and with “TK” in the same team, you almost wondered if there would have been another reunion. Instead, Kimball and Cowdin clicked from the off, which was enough to dispel any concern that Kimball’s loss of ace engineer Brad Goldberg to Ganassi’s Ford GT sports car program would have an adverse effect on the program. Instead, Kimball took what he had learned the previous five years and applied it even more to drive his team forward.

It remains to be seen if Kimball will make that next leap from regular, consistent top-10 finisher to a bona fide multiple-race winner and championship contender. The field is still quite deep. But if he continues at that same rate of methodical progression, don’t be surprised to see him threaten the top-5 in points in the future.

F1: Recapping the past week’s news

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Grosjean Three Penalty Points Away from a One-Race Ban

Haas F1’s Romain Grosjean could face a one-race ban if he accrues three more penalty points, per Formula1.com.

Grosjean, who had seven penalty points to his name entering last week’s Grand Prix of Singapore was assessed two more for ignoring blue flags in last week’s race.

Grosjean was in the midst of a battle with Sergey Sirotkin as race leaders Lewis Hamilton and Max Verstappen approached. FIA rules dictate that when a driver is given a blue flag, he or she must move over and let the faster car(s) through, irrespective of any in-race battle they may be involved in.

However, Grosjean continued to push Sirotkin as they battled for position, and did not immediately yield to Hamilton, which allowed Verstappen to close in.

Hamilton and Verstappen both eventually got by, though Hamilton was particularly alarmed by the incident.

“These guys were moving around … and they wouldn’t let me by,” he said in the aforementioned Formula1.com story. “It was definitely close and my heart was in my mouth for a minute.”

Grosjean did issue an apology afterward, and offered his side of the story.

“I’m sorry if I blocked anyone, it was not my intention,” Grosjean said. “I believe I did my best. I was fighting with Sergey, who was doing a little bit of go-kart racing out there. I couldn’t really slow down. Pierre [Gasly] was on my gearbox and Sergey was on my front wing. I passed him, then as soon as I passed him, I let Lewis by.”

Any driver who accumulates 12 penalty points in a span of 12 months is automatically handed a one-race ban. For Grosjean, his current tally began on October 29, 2017, meaning if he receives three more between now and October 29, 2018, he will be forced to sit out one race.

F1 Signs Sponsorship For In-Play Betting

Per BBC Sport, Liberty Media, which owns Formula 1, has signed a sponsorship rights agreement with Interregional Sports Group to develop and manage in-race betting platforms for grands prix.

The sponsorship, worth a reported $100 million U.S. dollars, would help generate “new ways to engage with the sport,” said managing director Sean Bratches in the BBC Sport story.

Liberty and F1 officials would also work with Sportradar, which collects and analyzes sports data, to track betting and ensure no fraudulent activities take place.

Arrivabene Takes Responsibility for Ferrari Missteps

Ferrari Team Principal Maurizio Arrivabene. (Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images)

Ferrari team principal Maurizio Arrivabene has said he accepts full responsibility for the miscues Ferrari has made during the 2018 Formula 1 season.

“The only mistake you see in front of you is me. I’m responsible for the team,” Arrivabene said in a piece posted on Crash.net.

He added, “When the result is not coming, it’s my responsibility. Not the responsibility of Sebastian (Vettel) or the engineer or the responsibility of the mechanics. It’s my responsibility.”

The statement, made on the Friday press conference prior to the Singapore Grand Prix, is especially poignant in the wake of a somewhat clumsy Italian Grand Prix. The team faced criticism after Kimi Raikkonen scored the pole, ahead of the championship-contending Vettel.

Vettel, too, has not been infallible. Most notably, he had contact with Valtteri Bottas on the opening lap of the French Grand Prix, spinning Bottas and damaging Vettel’s front wing – Vettel eventually finished fifth – and he crashed while leading the German Grand Prix. These incidents are among multiple black marks that have blighted Vettel’s championship challenge.

However, despite the errors, Vettel remains unshaken ahead of the final six races of 2018.

“We don’t have to fear any track that is coming, our car is working well in every track, so there’s nothing to fear until the end of the season. Russia should suit our car, it’s getting better for us every year,” Vettel said in a separate Crash.net piece.

He added, “There are still a lot of races to go and points to score. I never believed we have the faster car by a large margin like people said, but I know we have a very good car.”

Currently, Vettel trails Hamilton by 40 points in the driver’s championship, while Ferrari trails Mercedes by 37 points in the constructor’s championship.

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