Double Top-10's in Season Opener for Kimball April 7th, 2009 Charlie Kimball opened his 2009 Firestone Indy Lights campaign with a pair of top-10 finishes on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Kimball, who has type 1 diabetes, made forward...
Double Top-10's in Season Opener for Kimball April 7th, 2009
Charlie Kimball opened his 2009 Firestone Indy Lights campaign with a pair of top-10 finishes on the Streets of St. Petersburg. Kimball, who has type 1 diabetes, made forward progress in both races as he recovered from challenging qualifying sessions. He qualified 12th for Race 1 and 18th for Race 2. He ran two strong, clean races to move up to 10th in Saturday afternoon's event, and finished an incredible 7th in Sunday's Race 2. The results were even more impressive considering the limited testing that Kimball's team, Palm Beach International Raceway (Team PBIR), was able to complete before the first race weekend. The two top-10 results put Kimball 9th in points, 10 points away from fourth place.
The race weekend began with an extra challenge as the one hour practice session was hit by a major rain shower and run in wet conditions. It was a session of firsts- the first time that Kimball had driven the Grand Prix of St. Petersburg track, the first time in the Indy Lights car on wet tires, and the first time that Team PBIR had run the car in the rain or at a race weekend. The session went well and the 24-year old was able to learn the general layout of the track, as well as set times that were in the top 5. Because of traffic on his last few laps on the drying track, Kimball slid down the order to finish the practice session in 17th. However, it would prove to be largely irrelevant as Friday afternoon's qualifying session for Race 1 was held on a dry track bathed in hot Florida sunshine. Not only did Kimball then have to optimize new tires on a green track in qualifying, but he had to relearn the track with the significantly different grip levels. That learning curve was made tougher when the qualifying session was disrupted by three full course yellow flags. This meant that Kimball only had 4 hot laps to produce a qualifying time. He still managed to qualify 6th in his group meaning he would start Race 1 in 12th position.
"The session was so disrupted I am pleased to have done as well as I did," said Kimball. "I am still learning the track and the grip level was changing constantly!"
Qualifying for Race 2 was held in slightly cooler conditions on Saturday morning although the session was once again disrupted by multiple yellow flags. The limited laps and set-up problems meant that Kimball could only put in the 9th quickest time in his group meaning Kimball would start back in 18th out of the 27 car field.
Kimball was disappointed after the session, "That is not where I want to be in qualifying and we need to make some serious changes to the car to move up in the races."
After working hard with his engineer, Kimball made progress in Race 1. He was cautious heading into Turn 1 and lost a couple of positions. He immediately set about moving back forward, passing Andrew Prenderville halfway around lap 1. He then set about chasing down Ali Jackson. Before he had a chance to set up a pass, the yellow flags flew for a crash. After the restart, Kimball passed Jackson and moved back up to 11th. Taking advantage of another car crashing out, the Camarillo, CA resident moved into the top-10. Even with a car that was bottoming out, he managed to maintain his tenth place until the checkered flag flew on lap 40.
"It is very difficult to make passes under braking when the car is hitting the ground!" commented Kimball afterwards. "We are a couple of sessions behind everyone else at the moment, but we will tune the set up for tomorrow's race. Hopefully there will be some more incidents that I can use to my advantage and move forward."
Kimball's words about Race 2 proved to be prophetic as he made a good start, missed one spinning car in Turn 1 and another car wedged in the wall at Turn 4. Yellow flags then flew to clean up the first lap carnage. After the restart, Kimball continued to make progress, passing 2005 Indy Lights champion Wade Cunningham on lap 10. On lap 16, Kimball avoided a spinning car in Turn 1 and took advantage of a fellow driver's misstep to make another pass, putting him in 13th position. Kimball was then bottled up behind other cars without a way past until lap 22 when he passed Gustavo Yacaman early in the lap and avoided two spinning cars at the end of the lap to vault up to 10th. Then on lap 26, Kimball once again narrowly avoided someone else's accident and moved up a further 3 positions to 7th place. After two more full course yellow flags, there was a three lap sprint to the checkered flag. Kimball didn't make the best restart, but was able to keep his much more experienced teammate, the 2006 Indy Lights Champion, Jay Howard behind him.
"What a race!" enthused Kimball afterwards. "It took a lot of concentration not to get caught up in other people's accidents. The car was much better today and I know that when we unload in Long Beach, we will be faster straight away."
Kimball will now prepare for his 'home' race at the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach, April 17-19th, through the streets of downtown Long Beach.