Kimball Conquers Chaos of St. Pete for Fourth Charlie Kimball, driving the ...
Kimball Conquers Chaos of St. Pete for Fourth
Charlie Kimball, driving the #26 Levemir® FlexPen® AFS Racing/ Andretti Autosport car, came through very tough weather and track conditions to take a strong fourth place finish in the first race of the 2010 Firestone Indy Lights championship. Kimball was hoping for a strong showing as he had been in the top 5 in both practice sessions of the race weekend. However, Kimball and the team misjudged the set up for Qualifying and as such, the Californian could only manage the 7th fastest time. Despite that hiccup, Kimball had a strong drive through the dry to wet race on Sunday taking the checkered flag in fourth. That hard-earned result equals his best result in the series to date and starts the chase for this year's championship off well.
Kimball's race weekend started earlier than normal when he visited two local hospitals, Tampa General and St. Joseph's, to talk to children about racing as well as diabetes. As the only driver in the history of the IRL to compete with diabetes, the 25-year old is well suited to talk about overcoming challenges and pursuing dreams, no matter what. After the Wednesday hospital visits and associated media interviews, Kimball, as a member of the IndyCar Pace Car Team, drove VIPs and guests around the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg temporary street circuit in modified Honda Accord V6s.
"It has been a jam packed two days, but it has all been fun," Kimball said about the days leading up to the race. "After a TV interview telling my story, I got an email from a mom whose son has diabetes. She told me that my interview had made her cry and she could only hope that her son could still live his dream like I have. Moments like that make me realize that driving the race car is only part of what I do."
When it was finally time to get behind the wheel, practice on Friday afternoon went well for Kimball and his team. He was fourth quickest, only 0.2 off the best time of the session, set by his teammate Martin Plowman. After making some overnight adjustments, Kimball proceeded to set the 5th fastest time in Saturday's Practice 2 setting him up well for the afternoon qualifying session. However, with the increase in air and track temperature, Kimball underestimated the track grip. As a result, the balance of the car wasn't as good as it had been in either of the practices. The balance issues coupled with a late yellow flag as Kimball ran his second set of new tires left him 7th on the grid.
"That is really disappointing after how strong we have been in practice," said Kimball afterwards. "I know we will have great race pace, but we will need to improve the car overnight to fight for the win. Time for my engineer and me to go to work!"
After making changes that resulted in a positive pre-race warm up session, Kimball's race prep began to focus more on an impending thunderstorm gathering off the coast of Florida. The question was not if it would rain, but when and how hard. As the field of 16 Firestone Indy Lights cars rolled out to take the green flag, it was already starting to sprinkle, despite everyone running on dry slick tires. As the green flag flew, Kimball made a great start, avoiding a first corner wreck and moving up to 4th. Halfway around lap 1, the yellow flew to clean up wrecks in turn 1 and turn 8. After a few slow laps with increasing rain, it went back to green. Into turn 4, Kimball made light contact with the #29 of Saavedra and was delayed as the Colombian got rolling again. This put Kimball to the back of the order in 12th.
However, the yellow flag flew once again as it rained harder and more drivers misjudged track conditions. When it was obviously too wet to continue on slicks, the red flag was thrown to allow everyone to change to wet tires. The AFS Racing/ Andretti Autosport crew did a great job to make all the changes from a dry set up to a wet set up in the short time allowed. When the race got underway once again, Kimball focused on making up positions where possible and making sure to limit mistakes. His strategy worked wonders as he quickly moved back into the top-10. Then as other drivers spun and went wide, Kimball worked his way up to 6th in less than 10 laps. On lap 26, the yellow flew one last time for Sebastien Saavedra as he speared into the wall in turn 8, promoting Kimball to 5th. After the chaos in the race, Kimball was content with once again running the last 5 minutes of the race in a cautious mistake-free manner. The strategy stuck gold one final time as 4th place Jonathon Summerton spun on the final corner of the final lap - gifting Kimball one final position.
"What a chaotic race!" exclaimed Kimball as pitlane was being evacuated due to lightning strikes in the area. "That race had everything-dry, wet, REALLY wet. On a street circuit, a good result takes speed, concentration and a bit of luck. When it's wet on a street circuit, those factors are just magnified. The most important thing today was to take advantage of all the laps on offer. We were missing a bit of speed in the wet, but by running clean consistent laps, I've equaled my best Firestone Indy Lights result!"
Kimball's finish leaves him in fourth in the championship standings, only 20 points from the lead. Kimball will now head to Long Beach for a media event on Tuesday before flying to Birmingham, Alabama for race 2 at Barber Motorsports Park, April 9-11th.