MotorSportsTalk continues its annual review of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers that raced in 2017. A consistent run of ninth to 12th place finishes in the standings came to an end for Charlie Kimball in 2017, fighting a tough start to the season and struggling to recover from the early season deficit.
Charlie Kimball, No. 83 Chip Ganassi Racing Honda
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
It was a tough year for “Super Chuck,” who was perhaps unfairly cast as a villain early in the season after back-to-back incidents to open the year with Graham Rahal and Will Power. Poor luck and a brutal first nine races helped produce a year that looked worse statistically than it actually was.
Kimball has been at the top of the upper midfield in recent years, with finishes between ninth and 14th in points the last four years. So losing 100 points to his 2016 haul dropped him eight spots to 17th, but it didn’t feel nearly as big as a regression as that would have you believe.
As noted, the start to the year got Kimball – now in a Honda with Ganassi’s change – off on the wrong foot. Despite eighth places at Phoenix and Detroit race two, Kimball had somehow managed four finishes of 21st or worst in the first nine races and sat 18th in points. Three mechanical issues prevented him from finishing races and at ovals this particularly hurt; he led at Indianapolis when his engine blew there and at Texas, after scoring his first career pole, he led 26 laps but completed only 41 laps total owing to an oil leak.
Results turned a bit better following an early season engineer swap, with Todd Malloy moved to his No. 83 car from the No. 10, and Eric Cowdin moved back to work with Tony Kanaan on the No. 10. Kimball was back to his usual upper midfield consistent self in the final eight races with six finishes of sixth through 11th, and considering the Honda kit’s deficiencies to Chevrolet’s at a number of those tracks, that was a respectable run of results. As he had done that in nearly all of the 2016 races – his top-10 total dropped from 11 to five – it was a sign the potential to finish well was still there.
Kimball and Novo Nordisk gave a lot to Ganassi over seven years. Kimball should push on to their next opportunity with hope of matching his solid run as a capable, front-running IndyCar driver that often punched above his weight. Immediate thoughts are with he and his family in California as they are fighting for everything given that state’s wildfires, before his 2018 plans get revealed.
During a regular racing schedule, five-time NTT IndyCar Series champion Scott Dixon of Chip Ganassi Racing would spend much of his time between races at PitFit in Indianapolis.
The highly advanced workout facility on the northwest side of Indianapolis is run by noted sports trainer Jim Leo. His clientele includes IndyCar Series drivers and other athletes in the area.
In addition to the array of workout machines, Leo’s facility also has advanced equipment to test a driver’s reaction time. These range from a board with lights that rapidly flash, and a driver has to hit the board to turn them off. There are other tests drivers do to keep their skills sharp and reaction time focused.
His reaction time is being tested by his wife, Emma, throwing a tennis ball at him, changing the direction with each toss.
“I’ve gone back to old school, like tennis balls and Emma can drop them or throw them,” Dixon told NBCSports.com. “As long as you keep up with basic cardio and lift weights and work on the neck muscles, that’s the harder part to get ready for.
“I had already stopped going into Pit Fit last week. We had not been doing that for a while. Haven’t left the house for 13 days, now. We went to the grocery store once. The rest of the stuff has been delivered.
“We’re locked down, man, trying to do our best for everyone else.”
Dixon’s home has an impressive array of workout equipment. That allows the 39-year-old racing legend to stay fit during this extended time off that won’t end until the last week of May at the earliest.
“I have most of the stuff I need at home,” Dixon explained. “Some of the reaction stuff, the D-2s and Synaptic machines plus some of the upper-body machines, are pretty unique machines. Those are the machines that Jim Leo has at PitFit.
“As far as cycling, running, general weights, skiers and rollers, I have that at home.”
It seems like a lifetime ago when the world was normal. That was before the dreaded novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic literally sent society underground and locked in while awaiting a solution to this fatal virus.
Before this unexpected shutdown, Dixon would go into PitFit to work on specialized equipment on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. He would do the rest of his physical workout at home.
“I started skipping that when we got home before the lockdown,” Dixon said. “Before the lockdown, Jim could have stayed open because he never has more than 10 people at once.
“Typically, he would have the drivers spaced out where Tony Kanaan and I would go in at 8 in the morning, and Alexander Rossi and James Hinchcliffe would go in at 9:30, and then Zach Veach and Spencer Pigot and Charlie Kimball would go in around 11. There were only about five of us going in at once.”
Two weeks ago, Leo dropped off some equipment at Dixon’s house along with more instructions to focus on his workouts during the layoff.
Sacrifices are being made all throughout the world, including racing.
“You can’t be selfish,” Dixon said. “It sucks for the drivers, but it sucks a lot worse for a lot of other people. Luckily, the school the girls go to has e-learning. It’s school as usual on the computer from 8:30 to 3 and that has been seamless on that front.
“On a personal note, it’s nice to be home with the baby and bonding as well, and that is great. But all of us wish everything was back to normal as soon as possible.”
Dixon is the father of three, including young daughters Poppy (10), Tilly (8) and infant son, Kit.
This is a time to keep his family safe.
“You hear mixed messages about who is more at risk,” Dixon said. “Obviously, older people with underlying conditions. We’re a fairly healthy family, but still it sounds like something can trigger a pretty bad situation. It’s better to be safe than sorry so we are limiting our contact as fast as possible. The quicker everybody locks down, the quicker we will get through the situation. If we stay home, we will see a decline and hopefully get back to normal pretty quickly.
“It’s a new thing for everybody.”
For now, Dixon works out at home, while the girls continue their classes on the computer. Emma spends time with her infant son, Kit, while taking care of the family.
These days of working out at home will be important because once racing is scheduled to return, tentatively set for May 30 at Detroit, it will be flat-out, racing nearly every weekend.
“No, but everybody is having plenty of rest right now,” Dixon quipped. “It’s not what anybody wants. We all keep hoping everybody remains safe and healthy. It’s a difficult time for a lot of people and we’ve been very lucky that we don’t know anybody that has had an issue so far. Hopefully, that remains the same.
“Everybody is ready to go. We were ready to go at St. Pete. This will be welcomed greatly.
“Nothing is normal these days. I think what IndyCar and IMS did was probably the best of the situations. You never want to move the dates of the 500, but you always want the people to be relaxed enough they are going to come to the race, too.
“The way they have done the schedule is pretty cool. It gives them enough wiggle room now with Detroit being the kickoff. What is also fun is the July 4 doubleheader weekend at Indianapolis and St. Pete finishing the season.”
Once life returns to normal, depending on what the new normal will look like, race drivers and athletes will once again be in an area they know.
The difficult part of this, however, is nobody knows when the COVID-19 outbreak will end.
“The hard part right now is there are so many unknowns,” Dixon said. “That is what people hate. They could wrap their hands around two weeks, but it could be another six weeks. People will go crazy.
“That is what we are going through right now. The unknown. Nobody knows what the next step is.”
That is why Dixon has a message for all race fans to take these orders seriously.
“Stay safe. Stay away from people. Lock down. Get this period done with,” Dixon said. “Once we do that, hopefully we can crack on like normal, and people can find fixes and therapies. As soon as everybody bunkers down, we will get through this sooner instead of later.
“Let’s get back to normal as quick as possible and get back to racing when we can.”