Playing the Lottery in Kansas American racing driver Charlie Kimball took part in his first ever oval race last weekend at Kansas Speedway. The Firestone Indy Lights rookie qualified a very impressive 7th in his first single-car two ...
Playing the Lottery in Kansas
American racing driver Charlie Kimball took part in his first ever oval race last weekend at Kansas Speedway. The Firestone Indy Lights rookie qualified a very impressive 7th in his first single-car two lap qualifying. Kimball then demonstrated racecraft and skill in the Kansas Lottery 100 running consistently in the top 8 pack before a cut tire forced him to pit for a tire change, dropping him two laps behind the leaders. He finished in 13th place and set the fastest lap of the race. The result drops Kimball to a tie for 14th in the championship, although the standings remain extremely close up to 6th.
Charlie Kimball began the weekend on Friday April 24th with a live TV interview from Kansas City's Fox 4 morning news studios. The news anchor, Mark Alford, and Kimball discussed the upcoming race, Kimball's diabetes management and his partnership with Novo Nordisk. Then it was out to the 1.5 mile superspeedway for Kimball to talk through the race weekend with his engineer. His day finished with an hour long autograph session with all of the other Firestone Indy Lights and Indy Car Series drivers. While the weather on Friday was nice and warm with a light breeze predictions for the weekend included a chance of thunderstorms and high winds.
Saturday was full of on track action with a 45-minute session at 9am where all 24 cars took to the track, an hour practice at 11:30am split into two half hour groups with 12 cars on track in each session. The focus for the 24 year old from Camarillo, CA was to run in traffic in the practice sessions to prepare the car for the race. Especially with Kimball's inexperience on ovals, running in traffic and getting comfortable listening to his spotter on the radio would be crucial to a successful Sunday. Kimball spent most of the session in groups of 2-5 cars and set the 16th quickest time. The second practice was much of the same as Kimball's confidence running in traffic continued to grow. He set the 12th quickest time and ran one simulation to prepare for the afternoon's qualifying session.
"That is a lot of fun!" exclaimed Kimball after the practices. "Running in traffic is tough with the turbulence, but having a good spotter makes all the difference in the world."
Qualifying for an oval is completely different to a road course qualifying. On a road course, the track is open for everyone to go out and set the quickest time possible, however on an oval, it is one car at a time for two laps. The combined time of those two laps set the grid position. To set the order in which the cars go out to qualify, drivers pull a number from a hat. Kimball was 19th out the 24 cars to qualify. His two qualifying laps were extremely consistent with times of 29.4000 and 29.4069 and an average speed of 186.101 miles an hour. The combined time of 58.8069 put Kimball 7th on the grid, a very impressive result for his first oval qualifying attempt.
Kimball talked about the experience afterwards, "That is really neat. You get so much grip from the new tires that you go out the pit lane, go full throttle and stay full throttle until after the checkered flag. It is a completely new sensation and I can't wait to go racing in a big group!"
Kimball's race was scheduled to start at 12 noon on Sunday, but because of threatening rain it was moved up until 10am. There had been a tornado in the neighboring county on Saturday night and heavy rainfall during the evening. The officials decided to start the race to ensure half distance was reached before any potential weather problems arose. If the race gets to half distance when it is stopped, it counts for full race points. The wind had picked up and would cause a lot of problems throughout the 100 mile race. Kimball made a good start and was getting into the rhythm of a full speed oval race when the first of many yellow flags flew for a crash in turn 4. On the restart Kimball got passed and dropped back to 8th before recovering the position and was starting to set up 6th place, Daniel Herrington, when the yellow flags came out for another big crash in turn 4. After the next restart, as Kimball began to work on getting around Herrington, another rookie, Gustavo Yacaman, drafted up to Kimball and went into turn 3 and 4 on the high side. Yacaman then spun and as he went around, his front wing cut the sidewall of Kimball's tire, deflating it slowly. As the field accelerated for the green, Kimball noticed the car behaving strangely because of the tire and came into the pitlane. After Kimball rejoined two laps behind the leaders, another yellow flag flew for yet another big crash in turn 4. Kimball then spent the rest of the race running behind and side by side with his teammate, Jay Howard, (who was on the tail end of the lead lap) to continue to learn the intricacies of oval racing.
"I feel like we can't catch a lucky break in the races, but with all the crash damage done today, I feel a bit lucky just to have survived," said Kimball. "The wind was really strong and after the rain last night, the track didn't have much grip. Put that together with a lot of oval rookies and you are bound to have a lot of crashes. It was unfortunate to have had the cut tire, but I am glad I felt it before it put me into the wall. I can't wait for the Freedom 100 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway now that I know what it's like to race on an oval."
Kimball will now participate in an official series test at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on May 5th in preparation for the Firestone Indy Lights blue ribbon event, the Freedom 100, May 22nd at the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.