IndyCar 2017 driver review: Charlie Kimball

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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
  • 2017: 17th Place, Best Finish 6th, 1 Pole, 0 Top-5, 5 Top-10, 53 Laps Led, 11.6 Avg. Start, 14.4 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.

Hunter and Jett Lawrence walk a delicate balance between winning races and favoring the fans

Hunter Jett Lawrence fans
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ANAHEIM, California – Hunter and Jett Lawrence are two of the most popular riders on the Monster Energy Supercross circuit, with fan bases that established and grew immediately when they came to America to ride for HRC Honda. Connecting with those fans came naturally for the charming Australian brothers, but it has not come without cost.

“It’s cool they’re there and it’s one of the things we try to do is give the fan that interaction,” Hunter told NBC Sports during Supercross Media Sessions ahead of the 2023 season. “It’s why we do ride days, meet-and-greets, press conferences  – all that stuff, because it’s exciting for them. We are trying to bridge the gap so they get personal interaction. Because that’s all they’re after. It’s all about getting that fan to think, ‘I know that guy. I didn’t meet him, but I get him. I get his humor.’ ”

There is no artifice in either brother. Their fan appeal is directly attributable to who they are at their core. And it’s that very genuineness that has throngs of fans standing outside their hauler, waiting for just a moment of their time.

“It’s about being yourself – talking to people,” Hunter said. “It’s not like I turn it on or turn it off; it’s just about being yourself. This is who we are, this is who you get and this is how it will be. You can’t portray something you’re not. If you keep saying you’re an orange, but apples keep popping out, it’s only a matter of time [until they figure it out].”

The key word is ‘throngs’, however. One person wanting just a few moments of time is incidental. Dozens are an entirely different matter.

“It’s tough in Supercross because it’s such a long day,” Hunter said. “The recovery side of it’s tough to do everything. We get stuck outside the grid; we can’t be there for like 10 minutes. We’re stuck there for like an hour. It gets overwhelming at times.

“You feel bad because you want to sign everything, but you’re still here for a job. Every race day is like that. We do the best we can, but there are so many people who wait out front. They’re screaming for you. Even when we’re coming off the sessions, they’re already yelling before you put your bike on the stands. You don’t even get time to take you helmet off.”

It can be a double-edged sword. Personality is only one part of the equation. A much bigger part of the brothers’ fan appeal comes because of their success. Hunter finished second in the last two Supercross 250 West title battles and third in the past two Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championships.

Jett won the last three titles he competed for, including last year’s 250 East Supercross Championship and the last two Motocross contests.

“I think they expect me to have nothing else to do on a Saturday and that I have unlimited energy,” Jett said. “But, I’m trying to recover for the next race.”

It’s a matter of timing. Jett has gained a reputation last year for handing out hundreds of donuts before the races during Red Bull fan appreciation sessions. And after the race, once the business at hand has been settled, Jett is equally available to the fans.

“After the race it’s fine; I’ll stay behind.” Jett said. “My job is done on the racing side of things, but until that last moto is done, my main thing is dirt bikes. The fans come along with it. The fans are part of the job, but main job at hand is the racing side of things. After the race, I’ll stay there for an hour or so. It’s a lot calmer.”