LEXINGTON, Ohio – Charlie Kimball recounts how angst, trust, commitment and jubilation intertwined as the August 2013 Honda Indy 200 at Mid-Ohio race weekend played out. There was much to digest:
*Momentum of a sixth-place finish in the second race of the Toronto doubleheader.
*A crash in the practice session preceding qualifications.
*The crew responding and Kimball tying his career high of fifth in qualifying.
*Overtaking race leader Simon Pagenaud deep on the back side of the Keyhole with 18 laps left.
*Leading a field-high 46 laps in the caution-free race when he led a total of 15 laps in his previous 44 starts.
*Earning his first Verizon IndyCar Series victory.
“Coming back now I remember how the weekend always had a lot of promise but we really didn’t know, and then my crash in practice right before qualifying I didn’t know if the car would be ready. I had a lot of confidence in the guys (to repair it) but we didn’t know for sure,” Kimball said last week during a team test at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in preparation for the Aug. 3 race. “Then qualifying in the top five was like this could show really well, but ...”
Kimball, 29, of Camarillio, Calif., points to the depth of competition (a Chip Ganassi Racing car had won the previous four years; three by Scott Dixon), strategy and circumstance as elusive components to race result projections.
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Strategy was the decisive factor for Kimball, who did not compete at Mid-Ohio in 2012 because of a wrist injury suffered a week earlier in testing at the facility. Engineer Brad Goldberg and race strategist Tom Wurtz broached a go-for-it approach to the 90-lap race on the 2.258-mile, 13-turn layout.
“It came down to risk-reward,” Kimball said. “We knew we had a quick car and where we were in fifth we would have to save a lot of fuel to make it on two stops rather than three. Brad said, ‘What are we going to lose if we save fuel and run around and finish 10th? You’re going to get out of the car and hate me. If at least if we try something, go for it, and if it doesn’t work it doesn’t work but at least give ourselves the chance to get that win.’
“Brad and Tom have a good feel for it. So it was here’s the window; here we go.”
Kimball’s No. 83 Novo Nordisk Chip Ganassi Racing entry ran in the top five early, led Laps 31-40 and 48-64.
“As the race developed I knew we had the right strategy call; we just had to have the right breaks,” Kimball said. “There are very few races like that when you put yourself in a position that, no matter what’s happening, you’ve got a shot.”
He pitted for the third and final time on Lap 65 and worked his way back to the front, making the decisive move on Pagenaud on Lap 73 seconds after the No. 77 car exited pit lane. On cold tires, Pagenaud couldn’t hold off the charging Kimball or catch him in the intervening laps.
“To get that win and share it with the guys, because it was a lot of their first win as well, meant a lot,” Kimball said. “It’s cool to remember.”
This time around, Kimball enters Mid-Ohio with seventh- and fourth-place finishes at Toronto in the Chevrolet-powered Levemir FlexTouch car that completed the stretch of six races in four consecutive weekends. Kimball recorded two top fives (fourth place at Houston 2 matching Toronto 2) among the four top-10s results. The No. 83 car crew earned the Firestone Pit Performance Award for Race 1 at Toronto with a total pit lane time of 29.920 seconds.
“To get the two top 10s and the one top five at Toronto was really good momentum-wise,” said Kimball, who moved from 16th in the championship standings to 13th following the Honda Indy Toronto. “I think on the Novo Nordisk side we’ve improved on the street circuits and definitely the guys have gotten really good on pit lane where (at Mid-Ohio) those couple of extra seconds on pit lane make a big difference.”