All photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

Inside the rink: Charlie Kimball, Honda take on NHL All-Star Game

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Editor’s note: Charlie Kimball, driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing Teams, took over the Verizon IndyCar Series Instagram and Snapchat social media accounts during the NHL All-Star Game at STAPLES Center this weekend in Los Angeles. Honda is the official vehicle of the NHL. While there, Kimball was also keeping apprised of his Ganassi and Honda teammates racing at the Rolex 24 at Daytona. Kimball recounts his reflections of the weekend on ice and watching the cars metaphorically on ice, when speaking to MotorSportsTalk editor Tony DiZinno.

One of my many interests outside the cockpit is watching hockey, and so to have the opportunity to take in the NHL All-Star Game presented by Honda not far from my hometown in Los Angeles was something I really appreciated having the chance to do.

As drivers, we’re always working to engage with our fans via social media. But to be honest, I’d never done anything as in-depth as a full account takeover, which I did this weekend for IndyCar. So this was a deeper dive into taking over a full social media presence, compared to just my own, for an in-depth weekend. For me, it was a neat way to express something I’ve been super interested in, and has ties to racing on NBCSN and with Honda. This was a chance for me to be able to share a little bit of what I like other than racing, with non-traditional hockey fans.

The celebrity game and skills competition was fun to watch, and very impressive. Saturday night after the skills competition, there was a blink-182 concert, and you almost felt transplanted back in time because for only an hour show, they played all their big hits. And that was just the warm-up act!

The All-Star Game itself was a blast. When you get 3-on-3 hockey, there’s not a lot of defense played. The goalies get hung out to dry. So there’s lot happening in 10-minute periods each time they go out.

One of the things I really appreciate about hockey is how much those involved appreciate the sport. There’s a saying I’ve heard, where cricket is a game for gentlemen played by gentlemen, soccer is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, rugby is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen, and Aussie Rules Football is a game for hooligans played by hooligans. When you look at hockey, you think it could be a hard-hitting, vicious game. But the respect these guys have for each other, for the game, and the history of the game is unbelievable to witness.

Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

The NHL 100 celebration Friday night reminded me a lot of the Indianapolis 500 banquet. One of the first things they did was reveal the list of 100 greatest players, which included a number of players from the first 50 years of the game until 1960s… and right then, four living players walked out. Not even 10 seconds into it and the current players in the audience just applauded straightaway. That respect and the understanding for the game of hockey is really an indication of how remarkable the game and appreciation is.

You can draw so many parallels to IndyCar. The driver back then were right on the limit of everything their cars could do. It’s the same in the ice rink.

Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

While there’s appreciation for the legends, there’s also good times and laughter we got to have with the mascots this trip. I believe 27 of the NHL mascots were in town. I got to know Bailey – the Kings mascot – when we were out in November. We’d shared some Twitter love. So I took a pic of the mascot showdown, and a number of bad puns were made. But all of them were in STAPLES Center, interacting with kids during TV timeouts. They were messing around with people and each other, which produced some classics! Nash – the Nashville Predator – came by. He came and took a photo with all the kids. They’d known each other and seen them at Predators games. It’s pretty cool the relationships that the mascots build with the fans.

The skills competition was the showcase event prior to the game on Saturday. It ended up a five-stage competition to pit the four divisions against each other. First off it was a relay, so there were thre wrist shots into an empty net, from the mid-line, the blue line, and close in. Then it moved into a passing competition, where one of the players had to pass a puck into a 4-inch by 2-inch goal! That was pretty serious. Then there was the puck handling… the skating competition. There’s six Gatorade bottles set out. They had to set this up and around. It went then to a tight-in, puck handling course, where you’d slide the puck through obstacles. There was a goalie shooting from his own goal over a barrier into the other goal at the end of ice. The winning time was crazy – a minute and 21 seconds. So all that happens in the time it takes me to do a lap of Watkins Glen!

Skills competition. Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball
Skills competition. Photo courtesy Charlie Kimball

There were also the target shooters. A guy stands on blue line… and they’ll feed them the puck and show how quickly they knock out the targets. Sidney Crosby’s targeting is spectacular. His ability to place the puck is super impressive. There was the fastest skating competition. I joked in one of my Instagram or Snapchat stories that it’s self explanatory. They can skate so fast with the stick in hands, and in full pads. Then it was the fastest shot. So it’s a slapshot from halfway between blue line and goal, as long as it went in. It tripped the radar gun at like 104 mph. Then they did a shootout between Pacific and Atlantic. Atlantic won and got to play the metro division … this was like knockout qualifying. And then the knockout round went up until the final round of All-Star Game.

At this point, I was merely catching my breath from how exhilarating this competition was. But me being a racer and having done the Rolex 24 at Daytona before, I had to check in on my teammates down in Daytona. Scott, Tony and Sebastien were racing in the Ganassi Ford GTs and Graham and Ryan were in the new Acuras. The challenge now was finding a way to be able to watch.

I’d mentioned earlier on Saturday how we’re at the concert and party. So I pulled out my phone to check in, and I pulled up the IMSA app and I saw how cold and wet everyone is. They’re cold and wet, and I was warm and dry!

I’ve driven at the Rolex 24 twice and done the “graveyard shift.” These stints are overnight; they can feel lonely and take forever, and it’s hard to stay focused at that point. Throw the challenge of rain in there and I was very impressed with the limited accidents in the rain.

Anyway, Saturday night, the only place that has FS2 TV coverage was the bar. So we sat at the bar from midnight to 12:30, so 3:30 a.m. ET, and it looked absolutely miserable. We ended up sitting next to a bunch of race fans. They were tangentially aware, and were seeing what our interest was in the race. We got up the next morning, and we had a decision to make: we could go to the NHL All-Star Brunch, or watch the last hour from the hotel and order room service.

Kimball able to watch at the bar... but not the final hour. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball
Kimball able to watch the Rolex 24 at the bar… but not the final hour. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

In the last hour.. I couldn’t watch. I could not watch that GTLM battle. It was just craziness! But it was unbelievable, as the Ganassi Fords won in class. And it was nice to see the NSX run as well as it did in its debut. It wasn’t just the Ganassi boys, but it was the Honda brethren. Graham and Ryan ran up front. There’s some bugs to work out, but it’s their first year in an endurance car. It ran really well and they did a really nice job.

We made it back to STAPLES for the game. The final act was incredible; being at STAPLES – it’s all (Los Angeles) Kings and Pacific fans. So that last sequence when the puck nearly went in… we were all asking how it did not go in? That was a $90,000 miss right there. The prize money is $1 million awarded to the winning team, and split up among the 11 players. It was a thoroughly fun event and tense right down to the end.

I’ve had people ask whether some kind of all-star event might work for INDYCAR as well. It would be a great way to highlight the participants, especially those who have a great first half of the season. But the series is so good right now you’d need to have all the cars involved. Maybe you have different physical competitions, or highlight things we do week-in, week-out that you don’t see on the race broadcast. Say you look at Firestone guys breaking down or mounting tires. The question would be who would sponsor it and where would it be. But it could provide some cool highlights.

Event logo, Honda logo, Charlie and wife Kathleen. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball
Event logo, Honda logo, Charlie and wife Kathleen. Photos courtesy Charlie Kimball

This was a super fun weekend, all around. It’s great to have the Honda family support because there’s so many things they are involved with beyond INDYCAR. There’s the NHL, redesigned Ridgeline, 2017 CRV and more. And you’ve seen what Bridgestone/Firestone have done with the Winter Classic.

It’s been nice for me to be back with Honda and it’ll be cool to do more fun things as the year goes on. As of next week though it’s back to the day job with our open test at Phoenix!

Thanks for reading.

-CK


INDYCAR: What Drivers Said after qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix

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Here’s what the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers had to say, courtesy of IndyCar Media Relations, after Saturday qualifying for the KOHLER Grand Prix (Sunday, 12:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN):

JOSEF NEWGARDEN (No. 1 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “It’s nice when you have the car to do it. We had the speed on Friday, so to finish it off today is nice. It’s only goal one. Two races; one for pole, one for the race. We need to close it out. Verizon has been very good to us, and Team Chevy as well. Engine package has been phenomenal to get the most out of it. You see how well we work together with Team Penske and Team Chevy. We just have to be smart and get through the first couple laps. Save the tires, save some fuel and be smart if a caution comes out in the middle of the race. We’ll see what we have for tomorrow.”

MATHEUS LEIST (No. 4 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): “Tough qualifying today. We’ve been struggling a little bit finding the best setup for the car. We need to concentrate for tomorrow so that we have a great car for the race. It’s a long race and you never know what can happen. We will keep working, improving and doing our best and will try to have a top 10 tomorrow.”

JAMES HINCHCLIFFE (No. 5 Arrow Electronics SPM Honda): “We’re struggling a little bit with the reds (Firestone alternate tires) – we just didn’t find the gain like everybody else did. I’m not entirely sure, honestly. Obviously, Robbie (Wickens) is doing well, so it’s a bit of a mystery for us. We went more towards his (Wickens’) setup and the balance kind of went out the window for me. It’s weird because we’ve been able to copy and paste setups all year long between the two of us and it just didn’t work here. I feel bad for the Arrow Electronics boys – obviously, the car’s capable of more. We just didn’t get it today.”

ROBERT WICKENS (No. 6 Lucas Oil SPM Honda): “Overall, it’s been a good weekend – we’ve still never been out of the top five in every session. Hopefully, me and the Lucas Oil boys can keep chipping away and come up with a slightly better car for the race tomorrow.”

SCOTT DIXON (No. 9 PNC Bank Chip Ganassi Racing Honda): 
“I just didn’t think we had great space to work in out there on the track. There were about five other guys before us and they are all trying to get their spacing right, as well. It’s nobody’s fault, it’s just there’s a tight window for everything. Maybe we should have waved off a third lap on the black (Firestone primary) tires and got ourselves better time on the reds (Firestone alternate tires). It is what it is, though, and we only really had one lap to try and get something going. Then, we had people starting to back up in front of us and never got to show our speed. I think the PNC Bank car had enough for the Firestone Fast Six, but we’ll have to show that speed tomorrow in the race.”

ED JONES (No. 10 First Data Chip Ganassi Racing Honda):
 “The guys on the First Data car made some great changes today after we struggled a little bit early on in the weekend here at Road America. That was the most confident I’ve felt with the car so far this weekend and I felt we were going in the right direction. We were capable of being in the Firestone Fast Six today, but we got held up a bit. On the upside, we have a really fast First Data car and something we can use to improve on up the grid for tomorrow.”

WILL POWER (No. 12 Verizon Team Penske Chevrolet): “That was close. We were off the whole time. I gave it everything the last lap. A surprise front row. I keep getting front rows every weekend. Not the pole, but yeah, I’m pretty happy. But only five hundredths off, come on. I think I did a really neat lap. Josef (Newgarden) did a great lap. That was all I had.”

TONY KANAAN (No. 14 ABC Supply AJ Foyt Racing Chevrolet): 
“I got traffic on my fast lap, but it would have just put us in the top 13, not enough to advance. The car is understeering all weekend. We tried something overnight that didn’t work, so it put us behind a session and we’re back to the car we had yesterday. It was the same car, so we were going to do the same lap time as yesterday when we tried the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but getting traffic didn’t help. But it wasn’t going to change a lot – maybe a few positions, which always helps, but we’ve got a little bit of work to do.”

GRAHAM RAHAL (No. 15 GEHL Honda): “We wanted to be further up and get the GEHL Honda in the top six. We’ve started in the top six every year, but there was nothing more in the car today. For maybe the first time this year, I’m confident saying that; there was nothing more. We only lacked one-tenth (of a second) over four miles from fourth (place), but that’s what Indy car racing is now. Yeah, we qualified ninth, but when you think that a tenth of a second over four-plus miles can move you five spots, it’s crazy, but that’s the reality of Indy car. We’ve just got to try to find a little more improvement for tomorrow, make the car a little more consistent for the race, and hopefully, we can go out there and attack. I think a lot of people have a lot of questions for the race. There is no warmup this year, so we’ll see how it goes.”

SEBASTIEN BOURDAIS (No. 18 Team SealMaster Honda): (About if he feels he’s in a good position to win tomorrow): “Yeah, I don’t know. I’d like to say so, but I’m not sure I believe it myself. It’s been a bit of a tough day. I thought after yesterday we thought we had everything under control, and things were looking good, and this morning we rolled out and struggled with grip and then we went into qualify and really struggled for good. I think I only did one good lap to be honest with you in Q2 on that new set of option tires. Everything was really scrappy and really difficult to put anything together. In (the Firestone Fast Six), I really didn’t get anything done properly. We tried one lap on both sets, but I’m not convinced it was the right thing to do – hindsight 20/20. Just one of those where you come out of the car and you’re not quite sure what else you should or would have done, but not super happy with the way things have gone. The guys did a really good job, but I just — yeah, I’m struggling to read anything that’s happening out there, it’s up and down, making a lot of mistakes, so don’t really feel great about it.

ZACHARY CLAMAN DE MELO (No. 19 Paysafe Honda): “It’s so competitive out there. I thought we had a really good chance at doing better in qualifying, but we ended up on the wrong end of the timing sheet. We just missed making it to the second round by a few tenths, so that’s a bit disappointing. That said, tomorrow is a long race and a lot can happen. I’m confident we can move up the field and get that good result we’ve been chasing the last few races.”

JORDAN KING (No. 20 Ed Carpenter Racing Fuzzy’s Vodka Chevrolet): “We’ve been making progress throughout the weekend, little steps at a time and qualifying was our best session yet. The car is now performing within that half-second window of the front of the field. There’s always that last hundredth of time left to get, so I’m a bit annoyed that we didn’t get it, but it was still a pretty good lap. I got as much as I could out of the car. There was just a little bit of oversteer out of Turn 12 and that’s probably the half a tenth that we needed to transfer. I would have liked to have got through to the next round, but it was still a decent effort considering how much progress we’ve made.”

SPENCER PIGOT (No. 21 Direct Supply Chevrolet): “Qualifying was definitely a solid improvement. It’s nice to have the Direct Supply car in the top 10 to start the race tomorrow. We’ve been making pretty big changes every session and we hadn’t really found anything that worked until qualifying. We were struggling with the front of the car in some places and the rear of the car in other places, we just had to try and tack it down a little bit. Obviously, it helped being on new tires and the reds (Firestone alternate tires), but the car has come alive – certainly a step in the right direction. To only be a tenth or so off the Firestone Fast Six, compared to where we were in practice, is a really good improvement. I’m happy with that, but we want to be higher up and we’ll try for that tomorrow.”

CHARLIE KIMBALL (No. 23 Tresiba Chevrolet): “That’s not the result that we’re all here for, obviously, and I think everyone here at Carlin is disappointed with that qualifying result, but at the same time I know Max (Chilton) and I both have a lot of confidence in this team and our engineering staff. We’ll look at all of the data tonight and learn from each other and try to come up with a plan for tomorrow’s race. The nice thing is that we’re still learning and we’re still constantly making progress, so it’s not like we’re out of options. We still have a lot left to try and a lot left to learn, so we’ll just keep moving forward.”

ZACH VEACH (No. 26 Relay Group 1001 Honda): “This weekend so far has been really good for us just confidence-wise. To show the speed that we have, I think we deserve to be in the top six – the car definitely does. I just made a mistake and just overdrove the reds (Firestone alternate tires) in the top 12 trying to make into the Firestone Fast Six. I calmed myself down and gathered it up, but I could only get us up to 11th. We have a great race car and I’m excited to see what we can do on race day.”

ALEXANDER ROSSI (No. 27 NAPA AUTO PARTS Honda): “We can do a lot from fourth. It’s always disappointing when you lead your two groups and miss out on the pole, but it’s so close. It’s amazing that around a four-mile track, it’s so tight. It’s just a testament to get to the championship, but huge hats off to the whole NAPA Know How team. We really struggled yesterday afternoon and made some good decisions overnight that paid off.”

RYAN HUNTER-REAY (No. 28 DHL Honda): “We didn’t test here, so we were a bit behind the 8-ball, but we made the right changes and I think we put a good effort out today. I was hoping to go one better at practice and be P2, but starting third is somewhere we can work from tomorrow in the race. It’s going to be interesting with no warmup tomorrow and trying to get the right setup on the race car, but it’s the same for everybody. We have an idea with where we are with older tires, so we’ll try and estimate where we need to be with the setup and put our best effort out there. To fight at it from third is a good thing, so we can do it from there.”

TAKUMA SATO (No. 30 Mi-Jack / Panasonic Honda): “It was definitely a good day. The entire team worked extremely well. The No. 30 boys always have, but it is great to give them back a nice position in qualifying. We were just four hundredths (of a second) off from the top six (in Round 2) and that shows how competitive the field is. I’m extremely happy to start seventh, which is the best position here so far. It’s a long race. We believe we have a strong car for the race, so I’m looking forward to having a strong result.”

ALFONSO CELIS JR. (No. 32 Juncos Racing Chevrolet): “Today we had no issues, which was important. Yesterday was for sure a setback, as we needed to run the whole day so that we could experiment with the red (alternate) Firestone tires and the softer compound. So not being able to run on the red tires yesterday really did not help our qualifying effort today. It is what it is at this point, so we will come back tomorrow and be ready to run a good race.”

MAX CHILTON (No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet): “Even though the results might not have shown it, I think we made a lot of progress here today at Road America. We definitely closed the gap from the beginning of the weekend and I really felt like I got everything out of the No. 59 Gallagher Chevrolet that I could. With us starting where we are tomorrow, we’ll have the freedom to try a completely different strategy, and hopefully, we can come away from a track I love with a decent result.”

GABBY CHAVES (No. 88 Harding Group Chevrolet): “Yet another tough qualifying session for us as we search to find the speed we need to get. We’re going to take a look overnight, and hopefully, we can figure something out for the race. Hopefully, we set ourselves up for a fun race and get to pass a lot of cars.”

MARCO ANDRETTI (No. 98 U.S. Concrete / Curb Honda): “We’ve been slipping backward ever since Practice 1 on the time sheets and just missed it. We’re a little bit loose there. I don’t think I got the most out of Lap 1 and we’re outside looking in by three tenths (of a second), so it’s not like we were that close. Hopefully, we’re better with (tire degradation) than we were with new tires. The race is obviously a different pace, but you still want to start further up than 15th.”

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