Coming off a Verizon IndyCar Series season in which he equaled his best championship finish, Charlie Kimball feels that he can do even better in 2017.
The driver of the No. 83 Tresiba Honda for Chip Ganassi Racing ended the season ninth in the standings on the strength of 11 top-10 finishes, including season-best fifth-place showings in the two races at Indianapolis Motor Speedway – the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the road course and the 100th Running of the Indianapolis 500 presented by PennGrade Motor Oil on the 2.5-mile oval.
Consistency was a key theme in Kimball’s season. He finished 15 out of 16 rounds – contact knocked him out of the season opener a lap short of the finish – and led all drivers in laps completed with 2,066 of a possible 2,070. He also celebrated his 100th career series start in the season finale at Sonoma Raceway.
“Last year, the consistency stepped up,” Kimball said. “We took a big step forward in qualifying performance and I think we need to find a little bit more in qualifying. Once you are running consistently in the top five, podiums and wins will take care of themselves.”
Kimball’s qualifying average was 10.3, up three spots from his previous best rating of 13.3 in 2015. The 31-year-old from Camarillo, California, noted the improvement was a matter of applying everything he has learned over his six years in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“For me, it was looking at everything you’ve learned over the previous five seasons and applying it in the right way,” he said. “You don’t want to overdrive it, you don’t want to grab it by the neck. Sometimes you just have to find the right places to push it. And that’s one of the hard parts about qualifying in an Indy car.”
An engineering change before the season started also worked in Kimball’s favor. Longtime engineer Brad Goldberg moved over to Chip Ganassi Racing’s Ford GT sports car program and veteran engineer Eric Cowdin took Goldberg’s place engineering the No. 83 car.
Cowdin previously worked with CGR teammate Tony Kanaan at Andretti Autosport and KV Racing before joining Ganassi in 2014. While personnel changes often take time to adjust, Kimball and Cowdin meshed quickly.
“Eric and I clicked almost right away. Our timing stand had really good synergy last year,” Kimball said. “I thought there was going to be a bigger transition, but we just picked up where we needed to. I was a little surprised on how seamless that was.”
With last year’s stats in mind, Kimball is poised to do better this year. He has vowed to get back in victory lane since his lone win came at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in 2013, 56 races ago.
“We’ve got to get back in victory lane,” he said emphatically. “Having run 100 Indy car races and only won one, a 1 percent win rate is not good enough for me. Not good enough for this team, not good enough for the 83 car.”
In order to contend for wins and podiums, Kimball has a realistic state of mind. He needs to continue his consistent run while also being cognizant of the competition level of the Verizon IndyCar Series.
“The goal every weekend is to qualify on pole, lead every lap, have the fastest lap and win,” he said. “I think that’s the goal of everyone up and down the grid. I think at the same time, the series is so competitive, the series is so tough. We need to be realistic in our thought processes.”
The biggest curveball for 2017 is adjusting to the Honda engine and aero package after spending three seasons with Chevrolet. Kimball can’t underestimate the importance of the adjustment. At this past weekend’s open test at Phoenix Raceway, Kimball ranked 19th of the 21 drivers on the speed chart.
“Maximizing the Honda kit is key and I think, if we can do a good job of that, we can be competitive consistently,” he said. “If we are competitive consistently, that means racing in the top five consistently and there’s no reason what we can’t take home some trophies and a race win or two is definitely in the cards.”
The 2017 Verizon IndyCar Series season opens with the Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg from March 10-12.